Canadian Fedwatch! News Across the Nation – Election 2004 – Post Secondary Policy

CANADA ELECTION 2004
THE RUNDOWN ON POST-SECONDARY POLICY

Elect the Best

I thought it might be interesting to compare the stances of the federal parties and what they’re saying with their provincial counterparts, especially on their records with post-secondary education. Unfortunately,

I hit a problem early on when looking at the performance of the Liberals. In British Columbia, for instance, the provincial liberals have removed tuition caps and students in BC have had the pleasure of watching their tuitions sky-rocket by over 30% in a single year.

On the other hand, the provincial Liberals in Ontario are taking steps to put a tuition cap on to the Ontario post-secondary institutions and have set aside money in their budget to help the universities deal with it.

With such a large gap in party policies, I realized comparing provincial to federal simply wasn’t going to work. Then again, this just serves to strengthen my general feeling that we should always vote for the best candidate in our riding, not necessarily the party we most agree with.

Of course, the party policies are still a good idea to take a look at, after all, that’ll give you some indication right off the bat what kind of things your particular candidates believe in.

So just to make looking easier, here are the websites of the parties that have candidates in every riding:
Conservative Party of Canada: http://www.conservative.ca/
Green Party of Canada: http://greenparty.ca/
Liberal Party of Canada: http://www.liberal.ca/
New Democratic Party: http://www.ndp.ca/

If you’re interested in some of the smaller parties that may be running in your area, you can look them up at this site: http://www.elections.ca/content.asp?section=pol&document=index&dir=par&lang=e&textonly=false

Each of those will have a search engine so you can look up the candidate in your particular riding and get in touch with them by e-mail or phone. It’s important to do this because it may change your decision. In my case, though I very much like the Green party policies, after questioning my candidates I may wind up voting Liberal on election day as the Liberal party candidate was the only one to respond to my e-mails. I don’t see any point in voting for a candidate who can’t even bother to try to convince me to vote for them when I’m asking them to.

Federal student organizations, The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have both graded the major political parties according to their policies on post-secondary education. The CFS took a look (http://www.cfs-fcee.ca/vote2/bnews0610.html) at the Conservatives, Liberals, and the NDP for their party platforms on post-secondary education and determined that only the NDP were deserving of an “A” grade. The Liberal party did slightly better, earning a “C” grade for their stance on research funding, while the conservative party failed in the eyes of the CFS because they “chose aircraft carriers over access to education.”

CASA, on the other hand, gave top marks (http://www.thinkeducation.ca/news.asp?ID=11) to the Green party, with the NDP being a close second. The Bloc Quebecois received third-place honours though still a passing grade.

The Conservatives and Liberals both failed according to CASA, with the Conservatives earning slightly higher marks than the Liberals simply because the Liberals made no promises in their platform for further initiatives in post-secondary education.

The parties’ stances on post-secondary education, while just one issue, are probably more important to AU students than they would be to most other universities, as AU is the most likely to be able to make a case that surpasses the provincial governments in its scope. Having a federal government that is receptive to post-secondary issues could be an enormous help in getting even greater recognition for our school and thus our degrees.

But however you feel on the issues or the parties, making sure you get that vote in is the most important. Not only will you be funding the party whose candidate you vote for, this is the one time in four years where the politicians really take notice of the rest of us. Let’s make sure we don’t waste it.

The Rundown for Post-Secondary

All four parties that have candidates in every riding across Canada include post-secondary education in their platforms, but to some it is appears to be a minor issue. Some promise specific changes, while others wax philosophical and repeat the vague promises of previous elections.

The Conservatives, for example, promise to “work with the provinces to reduce financial barriers to post-secondary education and training,” but don’t bother saying exactly how, nor do we know what actions the federal party will take if the provinces do not want to alter their education policies.

The only hint of how the party intends to improve access to higher education is a promise to “work with provinces to improve the Canada Student Loans Program to help overcome the barriers students face in pursuing post-secondary education and training opportunities.” To me this just sounds as if they want to make it easier for students to go into debt to finance their education.

In contrast, the Liberals devote much more space in their platform for the issue of access to post-secondary learning. Their stated goal is to foster “a Canada in which everyone has the opportunity for further education regardless of financial means. A Canada in which universal literacy and lifelong learning are woven into the national fabric.”

However, much of the information on the Liberal’s fact sheet merely reiterates what we already know. They tell us, for example, that “students from low-income families are only half as likely to participate in university as those from higher income households : [because] :education costs have been rising more quickly than increases in family incomes.”

The liberals go on to list the many initiatives they have undertaken in recent years to increase access to post-secondary education. These programs include:
“¢ The Canada Millennium Scholarships Foundation (which has recently come under attack for failing to provide funding for those most in need).
“¢ The Canada Education Savings Grant (which is continually under attack for only providing funding for students from middle or upper class families).
“¢ Education grants (with no clear criteria established)
“¢ The Canada Graduate Scholarships program
“¢ and a number of large grants to research foundations.

These initiatives suggest that the Liberals have worked to support education in general, and research more specifically, but none of this makes clear how the Liberals have helped to increase access to post-secondary learning for those who cannot afford rising tuitions.

On the plus side, their promises for the future are very specific, often having actual dollar amounts attached, and include:
“¢ “Establishing a Canada Learning Bond, to provide low-income families with a $500 grant for each child born after January 2003: followed by annual $100 instalments to assist these parents save for their children’s education. ”
“¢ “Accelerating the growth of RESPs for low-income families:” (No statistics are given on how many low income families actually contribute to RESPs)
“¢ Establishing a new up-front grant of up to $3,000 to first-year students from low-income
“¢ families who are eligible for Canada Student Loans;
“¢ Establishing a new up-front grant of up to $2,000 per year for students with disabilities;
“¢ Increasing support to full-time students through the Canada Student Loans program by
“¢ raising the weekly loan limit from $165 to $210 (There is no mention of raising the lifetime limit for student loans. If this is not done, then the increased weekly limit might only result in students’ running out of funding options sooner).

Also promised are initiatives to: Broaden eligibility for Canada Student Loans; increasing the maximum amount of debt reduction from $20,000 to $26,000; creating a new tax deduction for persons with disabilities; and providing an additional $125 million to the Aboriginal Human Resources Development.

The National Green Party, which is now running candidates in all ridings and showing a significant growth in support, claims to place a high priority on improving access to education at all levels. The party “believes in supporting and creating initiatives that further the education of all Canadians, at every stage of life.”

The Green Party’s platform is succinct, and their promises fairly specific in nature. To foster access to higher learning, the party promises to:

“¢ Increase funding for early childhood education.
“¢ Establish a Canadian mentorship network
“¢ Ensure tuition-free access to college and university programs for retired people.
“¢ Reduce the up-front costs of post-secondary tuition, making higher education more accessible
“¢ Boost participation in cooperative education programs and apprenticeships.
“¢ Work with provincial and territorial governments to roll back tuition to more affordable levels (like the Conservatives, however, no details of exactly how this will be accomplished are given)
“¢ Reduce student debt by over 40% by providing needs-based grants, to ensure that every deserving student is able to access postsecondary education.

These initiatives, if implemented, would clearly make a significant difference in how accessible post-secondary education is to lower income students and the elderly. They are also indicative of a fresh and innovative approach toward post secondary in that these initiatives reflect what people have actually been asking for. This is in sharp contrast with the Liberal policies of yesterday, often ones that provide a very different kind of assistance than what many students have said that they need.

On the other hand, the Green party is new and has no track record to back up their claims. This is both good, and bad, as the track records of the existing parties often show a great deal of disparity between what is promised, and what is done.

Finally, we have Jack Layton’s NDP — and make no mistake, this is “Jack Layton’s NDP.” The party is clearly placing all of their hopes on the new leader, and working hard to establish Jack Layton as the real candidate, not the party. This may be a losing strategy as their insistence that the party is now much stronger may be alienating to those who supported previous leaders.

Nonetheless, the party scores points for their education policy which, like the Green party, has a specific focus on tuition as a barrier to access and ways to end that.

This time around the NDP promises to:
“¢ Cut “tuition fees, just as NDP governments in British Columbia and Manitoba did, with a national plan to reduce fees by 10 per cent and then freeze them by increasing federal funding for post-secondary education and working with the provinces to make sure it happens” (comparing this definitive action plan to the vague assertions of the Liberals reveals a striking contrast in how the parties reveal their goals).
“¢ Increase research funding to “halt the privatization of research on campus”
“¢ Replace the Millennium Scholarship Fund “with needs-based grants”
“¢ Credit “all interest accrued on the Canada Student Loans program against graduates’ income taxes.”

Additionally the party promises to establish a national strategy for lifelong learning, extending broadband access to all communities, and work with the provinces to establish a Canada Post-Secondary Education Act that, in return for stable, long-term funding, would prevent the creation of private, for-profit colleges and universities.

References:

Conservative Party of Canada:
http://www.conservative.ca/platform/english/db_communities/db_communities_1.htm

Green Party of Canada:
http://www.greenparty.ca/platform2004/en/policies.php?p=59

Liberal Party of Canada: http://www.liberal.ca/pdf/Policyeng1.pdf (PDF file – Pg 9)

New Democratic Party: http://ndp.ca/uploaded/20040526133626_PSE.pdf (PDF file)

A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.

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