WINNIPEG (CUP) – One of Canada’s most talked-about elections ended with a groundbreaking 37-seat majority for the Saskatchewan Party, ending the NDP’s 16-year reign in the province.
The win could spell big changes for post-secondary education.
The Saskatchewan Party ran on a platform of change, promising ?new ideas? for families, health-care and environmental issues.
The big debate for students was choosing between a tuition cut or rebate.
While the NDP promised to lower the province’s tuition by $1,000, add 10,000 new seats in the training sector and continue the newly-introduced Graduate Tax Exemption, voters were lured by the Saskatchewan Party’s flagship promise of a new post-graduation tuition rebate of up to $20,000 over seven years.
The party also committed to increase funding to post-secondary institutions by 28 per cent, create a $3 million-a-year Saskatchewan scholarship fund, and allow $10,000 annually in tax-free earnings for entrepreneurs and self-employed people under the age of 30.
The Saskatchewan Party also promised to promote business education in the province.
?Any increase is going to be a benefit to students and universities,? said Barbara Pollock, vice-president of external relations at the University of Regina. ?we’re certainly looking forward to talking to them on the key priorities we all have.?
?The government and the opposition have been very supportive of post-secondary education, and we’re looking forward to this continuing,? she said.
This platform’s policies were partially geared towards keeping Saskatchewan’s graduates in the province after they complete their education and was well-received by the province’s technological institutes.
?A lot of our students are looking to stay in the province, go in and start their own businesses in urban and rural Saskatchewan,? said Brittany Holderness, president of the Kelsey Students’ Association at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.
The party’s overall post-secondary platform, however, received mixed reviews.
A recent report card issued by the Canadian Federation of Students? Saskatchewan chapter gave it a mediocre C+.
While the scholarship fund and tuition rebate got high marks, they were overshadowed by failing grades for a lack of initiatives in student housing and improved access to education for aboriginal students.
?The province is well off, they have the money to do more than they promised,? said Mike Burton, CFS representative for Saskatchewan and president of the University of Regina students’ union.
?We believe [improving access for Aboriginal students] is a sacred obligation,? he continued.
Burton said that affordable student housing is crucial to improving Saskatchewan’s economy and accommodating the growing population.
?We need to avoid what happened in Alberta, where students and low-income earners were left with no options,? he said.
The province’s technological and trade institutes have special funding and space needs, which Holderness said were overlooked in the election platform.
?Our students don’t look at the here and now, they have different needs than university students,? Holderness said. ?Funding needs to come to technological institutions in different ways.?
Burton believes while ?trade schools wanted increased spots, and universities wanted lower tuition,? no one got everything as requested.
But Holderness said that election platforms need to be taken with a grain of salt.
?In all platforms, things are said but there is no money to back it up,? she said.
?It would be premature to know what funding we’re talking about,? said Pollock. ?We need to sit down and be able to talk to them first.?
CFS-SK said that its representatives will work with the new government and push for additional tuition reductions and need-based access grants.
The students’ unions of other technological colleges are expected to lobby for additional training spots, equipment upgrades, more budget-related autonomy from the government and long term budget commitments.
?In a province as small as ours, we get to know the government and the opposition on a personal basis,? said Holderness. ?We look forward to working with the new opposition and government to make the best education we can.?
At only 10 years old, the relatively new Saskatchewan Party was led by Brad Wall to win a majority government with 37 seats and 52.2 per cent of the popular vote.
The Lorne Calvert-led NDP pulled in the remaining 21 seats in the 58-seat legislative assembly, with 36.2 per cent of the popular vote.
At 9.3 and 2 per cent of the vote respectively, the Liberal and Green parties failed to win any seats.