Parties’ post-secondary platforms broken down

By Samir Mechel

With the 44th Canadian federal election quickly approaching on September 20, students should be aware of each federal party’s policies on post-secondary education. Many new policies have been crafted this year with COVID-19 particularly in mind, but some of them are not intended to be permanent. The platforms of all the parties currently represented in Parliament, including the NDP, will continue the trend of individualization and marketization of post-secondary education by increasing loans and grants. Overall, only the Communist Party offers a detailed, materialist plan to decorporatize the post-secondary education system while eliminating tuition and student debt.

Liberal Party of Canada

The Liberals’ platform states that “post-secondary education was unaffordable for many,” so the party “took action.” The use of the past tense “was” implies that education is no longer unaffordable in Canada. This could not be further from the truth. Tuition, as well as other costs like rent and textbooks, have continued to rise at rates higher than wages, on which the government has failed to take significant action. In fact, the Liberals have continued decades of funding reductions for universities by the government as a proportion of operating revenues: from 55 percent in 2012 to just 24 percent in 2019.

The Liberals’ policies in 2021 are largely the same as those in their platforms of 2019 and 2015, promising to increase grants and give more flexible loans. Overall, the Liberals present more half-measures, which will continue to individualize the cost of post-secondary education without fundamentally addressing any of its problems.

2021 policies:

  • Increase repayment assistance eligibility for student loans from an annual income of $25,000 to $40,000 and reduce monthly payment maximum from 20 to 10 percent of household income
  • Continue the suspension of accumulation of interest on Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans until March 2023
  • Continue to extend Canada Student Grants of up to $6,000 to for full-time students until July 2023

Conservative Party of Canada

The Conservatives pledge to create a new fund of $30 million per year for Francophone universities outside Québec, including the Université de l’Ontario français. Other than that, they do not have any specific post-secondary policies in their platform. They do, however, mention the classic “free speech on campus” dog whistle, which the Canadian Association of University Teachers describes as “a solution in search of a problem,” and “an unprecedented interference with institutional autonomy.” The Conservatives also seek to invest $250 million over two years to create the Canada Job Training Fund, which will give training money to employers, unions, post-secondary institutions, and community organizations.

To return to their policy, $30 million of investment in Francophone education is not adequate given the number of colleges and universities affected (over one hundred). Like the other corporate parties, they also ignore federal responsibilities under treaties with Indigenous peoples; there must be full funding of Indigenous educational institutions and for Indigenous students.

In 2019, the Conservatives pledged to increase contributions of Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) from 20 to 30 cents per dollar invested up to $2,500 per year. However, it is unclear if the Conservatives still have any specific plans relating to RESPs. It would seem that Erin O’Toole is too busy trying to convince people that his party is not homophobic (despite a majority of Conservative M Ps voting against banning conversion therapy less than three months ago) to craft any sort of cohesive education policies.

2021 policies at a glance:

  • Create a new $30 million per year fund for Francophone universities in minority Francophone areas

Bloc Québécois 

The Bloc Québécois supports an increase in the Canada Social Transfer to fund post-secondary education by an unspecified amount. On its own, this is not a bad thing, but it is useless without negotiation with provinces and First Nations to establish conditions such as freezing and reducing tuition, and for rural and Indigenous access. Without that, institutions can still raise tuition fees and student indebtedness will increase.

2021 policies at a glance:

  • Increased federal funding for colleges and universities via the Canada Social Transfer

New Democratic Party

The NDP supports a gradual shift toward free post-secondary education. Initially, it will reform financing of post-secondary education by doubling the number of Canada Student Grants, eliminating interest on federal student loans, and introducing a five-year moratorium on repayment of said loans. For past students, it will introduce a debt forgiveness program of up to $20,000. The NDP will also work with provinces to limit and reduce tuition fees. Overall, the NDP’s plan offers more than the Liberals and Conservatives, but it remains gradualist and reformist in its approach. It also does not address issues such as corporate influence on education or Francophone education funding.

Economically, loan/grant approaches are similar to voucher approaches used to privatize and marketize public school systems, particularly in the U.S. They also make things worse for minority and rural communities. Increasing loans is also bound to increase student indebtedness, especially without specific tuition reduction targets and mechanisms. In fact, increasing loans and grants encourages institutions to raise tuition, because students will have more ways to (initially) pay it.

2021 policies at a glance:

  • Eliminate interest on federal student loans
  • Institute a five-year moratorium on loan payments
  • Introduce a targeted debt forgiveness program for graduates that will forgive up to $20,000 in student debt
  • Double the number of Canada Student Grants
  • Work with provinces to cap and reduce tuition fees with the stated goal of making post-secondary education free at the point of service

Green Party of Canada

The Green Party has a wide variety of half-explained policies. It supports abolishing tuition, cancelling federally held student debt, and instituting debt cancellation for student debt that exceeds $10,000. It also wants to create a Community and Environment Service Corps to support research and youth employment. In addition, the Greens pledge to expand apprenticeship programs, remove the two-percent cap on increases in education funding for Indigenous students, invest $10 billion in federal-provincial transfers for university and college funding, increase the Canada Training Benefit, and increase the number of Canada Graduate Scholarships available for graduate students. They also plan to increase grants to graduate and doctoral students, which seems to contradict their plan to eliminate tuition. The above criticisms of the grant system still apply here.

The Greens also want to revive the Liberals’ Canada Emergency Student Benefit “until the pandemic is over,” and expand the program to international and recently graduated students. The party says it will partially finance the above programs by redirecting existing spending on tax credits, and saving on student loan defaults write-offs and administration of the student loan system. It does not explain where the rest of the funding will come from.

2021 policies at a glance:

  • Make post-secondary education free at the point of service
  • Forgive all federally held student debt
  • Create a Community and Environment Service Corps to support youth employment
  • Increase Indigenous education funding
  • Increase grants and scholarships for graduate students
  • Revive the CESB

People’s Party of Canada

Maxime Bernier has said that the federal government is too involved in education, calling it a matter of “provincial jurisdiction.” However, the People’s Party does not have any policies explaining this or how it would become less involved, nor does it have a section on education in their platform.

2021 policies at a glance:

  • They do not have any

Communist Party of Canada

The Communist Party pledges to make post-secondary education free, including textbook and lab costs, and with stipends to cover students’ living expenses, similar to countries such as Cuba and Denmark. it would also eliminate current student debt. To finance this in the short term, it would leave NATO and reduce the military budget of over $20 billion by 75%.

The Communists also support a decorporatization of post-secondary education, including corporate control over research (such as vaccines) and protect students’ right to organize in unions. They support equitable funding for Indigenous and Francophone education, but would eliminate any public funding of private or religious schools.

The party also supports apprenticeships, seeking to increase funding and access to such programs and establishing a federal apprenticeship program with national standards for all trades.

2021 policies at a glance:

  • Make post-secondary education free to all, including textbooks
  • Introduce stipends to cover students’ living expenses
  • Eliminate student debt
  • Enhance labour, Indigenous, and women’s studies
  • Deliver equitable funding for Francophone education, and for Indigenous education as set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report
  • End public funding of private and religious schools
  • Establish federal program of apprenticeships and increasing support for them
  • Cut military spending by 75% to fund education

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