Full Text of Speech:
Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, GP): Mr. Speaker, decades of poor public policy in the post-secondary sector has created a generation of debt slaves and perpetuated inequality in our society. The Conservative approach to funding higher education has created a lost generation of students with high tuition fees, saddled with lots of debt, unable to buy a house, unpaid internships and a bad job market. What a combination. Skyrocketing tuition fees and loan-based financial assistance have pushed student debt to historic levels. Education costs continue to grow faster than inflation. The economy is a lot weaker than it was in the early 2000s. The capacity of graduates to repay their loans has quickly diminished.
When our finance minister was in university, the average price of tuition was about $500, and adjusted for inflation that would be about $3,000 today. In stark contrast, the average Canadian student pays over $6,000 dollars per year now, and students in Ontario pay $7,500 a year. This skyrocketing cost of tuition has outpaced inflation by a wide margin—more than double.
By September 2010, the total amount of student loans owed to the government reached $15 billion, the legislated ceiling set by the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. This figure does not even include provincial or personal loans, lines of credit, or education-related credit card debt. The current government altered the definition of “student loan” to exclude over $1.5 billion in federal student loan debt and it still it surpassed that $15 billion limit. Therefore, in response, our government amended the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act again in order to increase that limit to $19 billion, while at the same time dramatically reducing parliamentary oversight of the program.
This past year almost a half a million students were forced to borrow funds in order to finance their education, resulting in student debt increasing by $1 million per day. The Treasury Board’s proposal to write off nearly $300 million in unrecoverable student loans brings the total spent on writing off unpaid student debt to more than $1 billion in only four years. Clearly, financing higher education through tuition fees and debt is unsustainable and irresponsible. In the past fifteen years, tuition fees for students in Thunder Bay—Superior North and across Canada have grown to become the single largest expense for students. The dramatic tuition fee increases during this period were the direct result of cuts to public funding for post-secondary education, and to a somewhat lesser extent by provincial governments as well.
Public funding currently accounts for an average of approximately 57% of university and college operating funding, down from 80% just two decades ago. During that same period, tuition fees have grown from 14% of operating funding to over 35%, more than double. This constitutes a huge shift in Canada’s post-secondary education system away from a publicly funded model toward a privatized user fee system favouring the rich. Rapidly increasing tuition fees have caused post-secondary education to become unaffordable for many low-income Canadians.
The Conservative government is writing off nearly $300-million in unrecoverable student debts this year. However, according to the IMF, it has also subsidized big oil to the tune of $34 billion this year. Ottawa must change its approach.
The Conservatives must change. When will the government learn that investing in young Canadians, the future of our country, is a better investment than the corporate welfare cheques the Conservatives are handing out to their friends to big oil, gas and coal?
Mr. Bruce Hyer: Mr. Speaker, Roman Jakubowski, the student president at Lakehead University, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and the Green Party actually believe that the feds do have a role in reducing student debt in Canada.
Statistics Canada reports that students from low-income families are less than half as likely to go to university than those from high-income families. Students with little or no debt were more than twice as likely to finish their degree than students with high levels of debt. The completion rate for students with under $1,000 of debt was 71%, while the completion rate for those with over $10,000 in debt was 34%.
A post-secondary education has never been more necessary in Canada, and it has never been less accessible. Canadian youth are now the most indebted generation in the country’s history. This debt will have far-reaching implications for Canada’s economy and socio-economic equality.
When will these Conservatives start funding higher education for students across Canada, and in Thunder Bay—Superior North, and make Canada fairer, more effective and a more dynamic society and economy?