Post-secondary education has emerged as an important issue in provincial elections across the country this fall.
In Manitoba, the incumbent New Democratic Party kicked off its campaign with a promise to limit tuition fee increases to no more than the rate of inflation and to boost operating grants by five per cent in each of the next three years. Additionally, in their “contract with Manitobans,” the NDP pledged to introduce a 60 per cent tuition fee income tax rebate and triple the amount of money spent on scholarships and bursaries.
The province’s Progressive Conservatives committed to keeping tuition fee increases on par with inflation and endorsed creating a system for clear academic credit transfer, so students would be able to easily transfer credits between post-secondary institutions without penalty.
In Ontario, Dalton McGuinty’s “if re-elected” Liberals promised to provide a 30 per cent tuition rebate for middle income students, add 60,000 new student spaces, create three new undergraduate campuses, and give Ontario college and university graduates entering the nonprofit sector an additional six-month, interest free holiday on their student loans.
The rival Progressive Conservative Party called for a greater focus on vocational education and skills training, with an increase in apprentice spots and a training credit for employers. In addition, the party promised to ensure that any tuition increases are in line with inflation rates, and over the long haul, create up to 60,000 new post-secondary spaces, as well as raise the income threshold eligibility for student financial assistance and end the foreign scholarship program in order, party rhetoric said, to invest in domestic students.
Meanwhile, the NDP vowed to freeze tuition fees, eliminate interest on student loans and forgive student debt for new doctors who set up practices in underserviced rural areas, small towns and remote communities in northern Ontario.
The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students issued a report card on each of the parties’ platforms on post-secondary education, which was distributed across campuses provincewide.
Prince Edward Island’s Liberals pledged to expand graduate scholarships, eliminate interest on student loans and invest in more programs in rural communities, if re-elected.
In a news release issued days before PEI’s Oct. 3 vote, the Island Conservatives promised a $2,500 incentive to post-secondary graduates for every two years they commit to staying and working in PEI for a maximum of four years.
Finally, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Conservatives promised to extend the province’s tuition freeze by another four years and invest more in student debt relief.
The province’s NDP said it would phase out the provincial portion of student loans and replace them with a needsbased grant program, and eventually eliminate tuition fees.
Saskatchewan, which will have its first election by fixed date, will go to the polls on Nov. 7. Party platforms have yet to be released.
“With tuition fees outpacing inflation year after year in most pro-vinces, students and their families are faced with increasing debt loads,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “It’s not surprising that postsecondary education is such a key election issue.”
Statistics Canada reported in September that tuition fees for fulltime undergraduate students increased by 3.1 per cent to $5,601 in Saskatchewan; by 1.4 per cent to $3,645 in Manitoba; by 5.1 per cent to $6,640 in Ontario; and by 2.5 per cent to $5,258 in Prince Edward Island. Tuition fees in Newfoundland and Labrador remain frozen at $2,649.