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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2004

Martin's Throne Speech Disappoints

CAUT president Victor Catano expressed grave disappointment with the federal government's throne speech delivered earlier this month.

"At a time when universities and colleges are facing a crisis of underfunding, Paul Martin's government offers absolutely nothing in its first throne speech," Catano said.

"For the growing number of students denied access or faced with record debt levels, the government's main response is more debt by proposing to raise loan limits."

Catano said he was surprised the government ignored the unprecedented appeal in December from all the national organizations representing university and college administrators, faculty and students that called on the federal government to reinvest in Canada's universities and colleges through a new federal-provincial transfer for post-secondary education. The organizations also called for increased student support in the form of non-repayable needs-based grants.

"What we got was nothing for university and college funding and tinkering around the edges about the problem of access," Catano said.

In addition to increased loan limits, the throne speech promised that eligible expenses will be broadened, family income thresholds raised, some (unstated) measures taken to improve loan terms for part-time students, and a new grant provided for low-income students to cover a portion of the tuition cost in the first year.

"Even if the first-year grant was substantial," Catano asked, "what is the student supposed to do in the second and subsequent years?"

In his speech the following day, the prime minister urged families to make more use of registered education savings plans - a costly program that delivers benefits only to families wealthy enough to have disposable income to contribute to a plan and receive the government's 20 per cent top-up. To assist lower income Canadians, Martin announced the government "will develop a new 'learning bond' for every child born to a low-income family." The purpose is to give a start that encourages poor families to save.

"The solution is not more debt or more reliance on the flawed RESP scheme," Catano said. "What is required is a two-pronged approach - resumption of adequate federal funding for universities and colleges through a dedicated post-secondary education fund and introduction of a needs-based grant system, something that only Canada among industrial countries fails to provide."

The text of the Speech from the Throne is available at