OTTAWA (CUP) — Paul Martin created the disaster [and I] don’t know how he gets away with it, says an MP from her office in Vancouver.
The disaster that NDP MP Libby Davies is ranting about is the affordability of post-secondary education and the increasing debt she feels students are graduating into.
“The root of problem is that we’ve seen a massive retreat in federal funding to social programs. This is funding that used to go to post-secondary education,” she said.
According to Davies, when the Liberals took power in 1993 former finance minister Paul Martin, immediately cut “billions of dollars out of the [Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST)] plan.”
The CHST is presently a $37.5 billion federal transfer fund earmarked for provincial health care, social assistance and post-secondary education. In 1993, when the Liberals rose to power Martin’s department hacked billions out of it and over the decade, Davies’ office estimates, by and large federal support to the provinces for post-secondary education is down 34 per cent.
“I have never seen such a fundamental assault on programs as under the Liberals,” she said. “They [Liberals] speak on both sides of their mouths. I’ve heard them say the future is knowledge based. Yet they are starving the system and placing a higher and higher burden on students to get through the system.”
A system, she believes, is forcing students into arrears.
“They’re being forced to borrow more and more money and are graduating into massive debt,” she said. “This put students in an impossible situation [and creates] a lot of anxiety and stress,”
Davies estimates that the average student debt rose from $8,000 in 1990 to more than $25,000 in 2001.
Additionally, the MP from Vancouver East feels that because of dwindling funding from the federal government, “some provinces will use this as a further cover to make cuts of their own.”
While she admits that some provinces, like Quebec, are doing better than others, both the provinces and the federal governments need to get together.
“It’s easy for the provinces to say screw you,” she said.
“We need to create a partnership,” she adds, stressing that this debate is very similar to the on-going health care funding debate. “There is a huge hole in the system with the provinces. They need lead from federal government.”
If funding isn’t increased she thinks institution will be forced to move towards the private sector.
“Privatization is a very bad trend,” she said, using the numerous research chairs that have been set up across the country as an example. “The marketplace is beginning to dictate curriculum.”
She offers a simple solution to generating more funds.
“It’s only a matter of what the priorities are in the federal budget,” she explains. “It was a terrible mistake that the Liberals capitulated to the Alliance [and] brought in massive tax breaks.”
“That’s lost revenue.”
She believes that this money, including “the surplus that exists could be dedicated to post-secondary education.”
And what would Davies do if she found herself in power?
“I would look at ideas of establishing a department that has a much clearer mandate,” she said.
“The NDP has called for a tuition freeze [:] At some point we have to move towards free tuition.”
“Yes it’s affordable, it’s just a question of what the political priorities are.”