Election 2015 – The Post-Secondary Stances

Post-secondary education is a responsibility that the federal government has delegated to the provinces. Colleges and universities are created and regulated through provincial legislation and ministries. And yet, the federal government still has a role to play, particularly with regard to the nationwide Canada Student Loans program. The four major national political parties in Canada (the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, and Greens) have now all released their final campaign platforms. So which party puts forward the best offerings with regard to post-secondary education? That probably depends on your age, income level, and beliefs about post-secondary.

The Conservative Party of Canada notes that when “parents begin saving for their future education,” children get “the best possible start in life.” As such, the Conservative Party plans to help families prepare for post-secondary education by enhancing their current Registered Education Savings Plans program. If re-elected, the Conservative Party pledges to “double the enhanced grant for middle-income families from 10 cents to 20 cents per dollar on the first $500 contributed each year,” and “double the enhanced grant for lower-income families from 20 cents to 40 cents per dollar on the first $500 contributed each year.”

The Conservatives report that 2.59 million children were assisted by government RESP programs in 2014, of whom 900,000 were from low- and middle-income families ? which, incidentally, appears to imply that 1.69 million, or 65%, of the children assisted by this program are already from high-income families. Of course, this promise only impacts the next generation of post-secondary students, rather than those currently taking courses or managing student debt.

The Liberal Party of Canada, concerned that “rising costs have made post-secondary education increasingly out of reach,” puts forward a wider array of promises in their platform. They plan to increase both the number of students eligible for the non-repayable grants, as well as the amount of the grants. “We will increase the maximum Canada Student Grant for low-income students to $3,000 per year for full-time students, and to $1,800 per year for part-time students,” and “we will increase the income thresholds for eligibility, giving more Canadian students access,” they pledge. This will result in Liberals increasing funding to the program by “$750 million per year, rising to $900 million per year by 2019/20.”

The Liberals would also increase the amount of income graduates can earn before being required to begin repaying their student loans. By “changing the income thresholds in the Repayment Assistance Plan,” the Liberals would “pay the interest on student loans until graduates begin to earn sufficient incomes to take over their own payments and repay their own loans.”

The New Democratic Party platform on post-secondary is also surprisingly short, considering that the party has long been seen as an ardent supporter of access to education for all people. The NDP platform discusses how students, for too long, have “have mortgaged their future in student loans” in order to afford post-secondary education. Only two solutions, however, are put forward, both of which are fairly moderate. The NDP’s main promise regarding post-secondary is to “make education more accessible and affordable by phasing out interest on all federal student loans” over the course of the next seven years.

The NDP also commits to increase funding to the Canada Student Grants program by $250 million over four years, and to focus this funding “on helping low-income and Indigenous students, as well as students living with disabilities.” While increases to non-repayable student funding are certainly something that improves student access, the amount of this pledge seems particularly limited when It’s contrasted against the $750 million per year pledged by the Liberals to the same program.

The Green Party of Canada offers by far the most radical solution. Green Party would begin by “abolishing tuition fees for students without adequate financial means,” increasing funding for First Nations students, “implementing a debt forgiveness program” to eliminate all “existing or future student federal debt above $10,000,” and abolishing interest on new student loans.

And That’s just how they’d start. The Green Party cites the example of many European countries by noting that

many of the world’s most successful economies have proven that expanding the public education system to include post-secondary increases prosperity, equality, productivity, and economic competitiveness? Through consultation and collaboration with provincial governments and universities and colleges, by 2020 we will abolish tuition fees for post-secondary education and skills training for Canadians, guaranteeing that income is never a barrier for qualified students.

This plan certainly entitles the Greens to proclaim that they will “SLASH CANADA’S STUDENT DEBT TODAY, AND ABOLISH TUITION FEES FOR COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES” [emphasis original].

So which party puts forward the best post-secondary promises? The Green Party certainly offers the highest-value promises for post-secondary students. But if you are planning have a comfortable income and are planning to save for your children’s education, then the Conservatives could help you build your savings with enhanced RESPs. And if you already have student loans, the Liberals could help you qualify for Repayment Assistance, or the NDP could remove interest from your loans.

Check out each party’s platform. See what they have to say about what’s important to you. Then, on Monday, Oct. 19, help choose the Canada (and Canadian post-secondary system) that you want to see ? VOTE!

Bethany Tynes completed her MA in Integrated Studies through AU, and is a Canadian politics junkie.

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