Platform Primer: Education

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Platform Primer: Education

In the run-up to the federal election on May 2, we’ll be comparing the major parties’ platforms on issues that matter to urban voters.

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Each party’s key messages, according to their respective colours. Image by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.


Historically, attracting the student vote hasn’t been terribly important to federal parties due to the fact that traditionally students don’t, well, vote. Typically people who care about issues of post-secondary education are the people heavily involved in it, and, in the last election only 37 per cent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 to 24 voted. But the times, they might be a-changing. According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report, the average student debt upon graduation from a post-secondary program was just under $19,000, up 24 per cent from 10 years earlier. With post-secondary education debt ever increasing, encouragement from Rick Mercer, and national campaigns calling for vote mobs, the student vote may have a greater impact on this election than previous ones.

Conservatives

Almost impressively ignoring the issues surrounding rising student debt, the Tories discuss their successes in education policy during their minority-government reign, applauding their tax credit for student textbooks and their enhancements to Registered Education Savings Plans. According to George Davison, professor and secretary-treasurer of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., these breaks have not provided students and recent graduates with much relief. Promising to continue to assist these groups, the Conservative platform’s brief paragraph on students hails them as the future leaders of Canada, while offering very little in terms of student debt relief.
They promise to “enhance the Canada Student Loans Program for part-time students to respond to increased demand for assistance in career transition through post-secondary education” although they don’t get around to explaining these enhancements in any detail. They also promise to double work-exemption regulations for the students’ part of the Canada Student Loans Program, which would allow students receiving the government loan to work longer hours in part-time jobs to help pay their tuitions. Applauded by some, Davison argues that many students are already working the maximum they can without impinging on their studies.
Where the Conservatives get it right is in their discussion of the intersection of health care and education, promising to give a to-be-determined break to recent health care graduates who agree to practise in under-served or remote areas.

Liberals

The Liberal platform for education promises a bold initiative to help ease the continued increases of post-secondary tuition: the Learning Passport. A federal investment of $1 billion annually, the program will provide an annual $1,000 for four years for every high school student to use towards college, university, or CEGEP. In recognizing the lack of education accessibility for low-income families, the Learning Passport will be $1,500 annually for students who come from lower-income households.
During the leader’s debate, Ignatieff outlined that by pegging corporate tax at 18 per cent, $6 billion will be saved and able to fund the Learning Passport. The plan will be administered through Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs). While initially many were skeptical about the affordability of RESPs themselves, the Liberal platform states clearly that students and families will simply have to open the RESP and not be required to make their own contributions.
Other Liberal education highlights: In order to support post-secondary education in Aboriginal communities, “a Liberal Government will invest an additional $200 million in its first two years to lift the cap on post-secondary education funding.” The Liberal platform promises to implement Veteran Learning Benefits, a program that provides full support for the costs of up to four years of college, university, or technical education for Canadian Forces veterans after completion of service.

NDP

The education section in the NDP platform makes important strides but is lacking in detail or depth. Like the Liberals, the NDP promises to increase accessibility for lower-income students and people from Aboriginal communities. Their platform does not provide details, however. The platform suggests that the details are in Bill C-635, introduced in mid-March by Manitoban NDP MP Niki Ashton. The purpose of Bill C-635, also known as the Post-Secondary Education Act, has been outlined as the establishment of “criteria and conditions that must be satisfied before a full cash contribution may be made to a province in respect of post-secondary education programs.” Criticisms of the bill echo general criticisms of NDP initiatives: lack of feasibility and popularity. Similar to the approach of the platform itself, in the leaders debate, Layton blasted the Liberal and Conservative parties for not dedicating more focus on education but he did not outline the NDP solution.
The platform does, however, address the continual increasing of tuition costs and federal initiatives to combat them, designating an $800-million transfer to the provinces and territories in an effort to decrease post-secondary tuition fees.

Green Party

While not a single-issue party, the Greens election platform barely mentions post-secondary education at all. Their longer vision statement discusses the necessity of affordable post-secondary education and of conceptualizing education and training as a basic right. The platform outlines the financial barriers to higher education and the social goods that such education can bring to society.
The vision statement promises that Green MPs “will work to ensure that post-secondary education is based on realistic and effective policies” using some of these principles: quality and excellence, affordability for individuals, accessibility that is based on equality, merit, and willingness. While the Greens may have realistic and effective policy ideas when it comes to post-secondary education and the burdens of student loans, they don’t substantively outline the particulars in the document.

The Upshot

While the Conservatives don’t even note the financial strain of post-secondary education, the ever-increasing student debt, and the education discrepancy between high- and low-income families, the Liberal party discusses these issues and the lack of education access for Aboriginal communities on the first page of the platform’s learning section. Further, their Learning Passport, while arguably not enough to address all the country’s post-secondary issues, is clearly a thought-out initiative, promising money to students at the start of the term when tuition is due as opposed to upon completion. The NDP and the Green Party respectively have a dearth of material on post-secondary initiatives. The NDP platform of curbing tuition costs and giving education accessibility to often ignored groups sounds great, but the lack of detail raises the question of implementation and feasibility. And, typical of many positions in the Green Party’s platform, their stance on education initiatives seems to lack a plan for the future and simply states that the current policies are not working.

For more on the federal election, check out our politics hub, with a complete guide to every riding in Toronto. For all the details on their policy plans, also check out the platforms of the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party.

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