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Platform promises for students: poor to nonexistent

The Liberal Party’s first major policy announcement in the run-up to the election is their Canadian Learning Strategy. The starring policy within this strategy is the “Canadian Learning Passport”: a billion dollar initiative that would ensure that every high school student who chooses to go on to post-secondary school will receive $4000 over four years, or $6000 over four years for students from low income families. Liberals say it is “the single largest annual investment in non-repayable federal student assistance in Canadian history.” They have also promised to create a Métis national scholarship and permanently fund the First Nations University of Canada.

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Date Posted: April 14, 2011
Print Edtition: April 8, 2011

By Chelsea Thornton (Staff Writer) – Email

The Liberal Party’s first major policy announcement in the run-up to the election is their Canadian Learning Strategy. The starring policy within this strategy is the “Canadian Learning Passport”: a billion dollar initiative that would ensure that every high school student who chooses to go on to post-secondary school will receive $4000 over four years, or $6000 over four years for students from low income families. Liberals say it is “the single largest annual investment in non-repayable federal student assistance in Canadian history.” They have also promised to create a Métis national scholarship and permanently fund the First Nations University of Canada.

Sounds great right? The problem is that the promised funds only amount to about $1000 a year. And the money replaces the education tax credit and textbook tax credit. The party is really only pledging to commit about $500 extra a year. At UFV, which has a lower than average tuition rate, that works out to less than the tuition for one four-credit course. Never mind the fact that tuition rates are rising nation-wide. Also, the program only provides funding for four years of school: how many students that you know are on schedule to finish their degree in four years?

The fact of the matter is that $4000 might sound like a lot to a wide-eyed high school student or a parent who has yet to accompany a child through the financial turmoil that is university, but anybody close to the post-secondary system will recognize that the Learning Passport is a pretty flimsy band-aid solution. The program is aimed to appeal to new-immigrant and middle-class families: a glittering promise that students will be given the funds to recognize their potential. The program would be funded by eliminating corporate tax cuts.

The NDP recognizes the hollowness of this policy. Layton said “The key thing you have to do with education is get the costs down and hold those costs from rising.” That sounds wonderful, Mr.Layton, but how are you going to do that? Unfortunately, so far the NDP plan appears to consist of nothing more than this statement. Green Party plans are similarly vague, promising to freeze then reduce tuition rates and fund more need-based grants without explaining where the money would come from or how such a program might be implemented.

The Conservatives have yet to address the issue of education directly, choosing instead to cover it within the umbrella of their income-splitting tax policy, which would let families where one parent makes drastically more than another split that income to reduce the taxes the household would have to pay. This would particularly benefit families with one stay-at-home parent: the working parent could distribute their income between both parents, lowering their tax bracket. However, this policy would only come into place after the budget is balanced – scheduled to happen in four years.

Why aren’t the parties pursuing more aggressive strategies when it comes to education? Probably because the student vote in Canada is largely recognized to be almost microscopic in size and powerfully apathetic. Why waste the few campaign promises you can believably make trying to woo an audience that isn’t listening?

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