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Why the Fuck Is No One Talking About...

Why the Fuck Aren’t Canada’s Federal Parties Talking About Student Debt?

Education and student loans haven't been talked about much on the campaign trail. So we asked the parties why students should care about their plan.

Jake Kivanc

Jake Kivanc

Photo via Flickr user Renegade98

With the country's provinces divided in their approach to student loans, one of the most pressing issues in this federal election to young people is how each party plans to tackle education.

Unfortunately, the outlook is not that good.

Out of the three frontrunner parties, only the Conservatives (we know!) have proposed anything semi-tangible in regards to students on the campaign trail, with Stephen Harper promising an increase to the money returned on every dollar invested into a child's RESP fund for low and middle-income families.

Up from 10 to 20 cents for middle-income households and 20 to 40 cents for low-income families, the Conservatives pledge they will give up to $200 back on the first $500 invested by families making under $44,000 annually, and $100 back on the same amount to families making under $88,000.

This proposal is said to affect 900,000 students who received the RESP bonus in 2015, out of a total 2.59 million that received the most basic Canada Education Savings Grant, according to a Conservative press release on the announcement. Some critics say that it's still not enough, however, as most low to middle-income families can't contribute to an RESP in the first place, not to mention that the proposal does nothing for student loans.

Although not on centre stage (so much so that she wasn't even invited to the second debate), the boldest offerings this campaign have come from the Green Party's Elizabeth May. She has said that she would not only eliminate university tuition nationwide by 2020, but would also cap all student debt at a maximum of $10,000 and reduce loan interest rates to zero.

"Canada's economy depends on investing in our brain, investing in our youths, and ensuring that no Canadian gives up on their educational dreams because they can't afford it," she said at a campaign stop last week at the University of Guelph.

May also called out other parties for not doing enough on the front, doubling down on her belief that Canadian youth are, believe it or not, the future of Canada.

"If we ignore our youth, society will begin to fall apart," she said.

While the NDP and the Liberals have both yet to announce their education platforms or make any significant statement on student loans, they have proposed youth-focused initiatives to increase job availability.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has offered $200 million over the next four years to improve youth employment conditions, with a focus on stimulating apprenticeships and paid internships via the private and nonprofit sectors.

On the other hand, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has proposed $1.5 billion in youth job initiatives over the next five years to create 120,000 positions in science and technology-focused sectors. He has also promised to create 5,000 "green" jobs, as well as additional investment in placements for co-op students and those travelling to do community-building projects.

When contacted for direct comment on their educational platform, an NDP spokesperson told VICE that they would be unveiling their plan soon, but could not go into any specific details.

Instead, a quote from Mulcair's stop at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday was provided to VICE via email to supplement a direct statement.

"Young people today have the largest student debt that there ever was, as I went across the country I met lots of young people who are thinking of having a family but they look at the cost of that conciliation, balancing their life and their family and their work, it's extremely difficult. So we would make sure we would put more money in their pockets with quality, affordable child care and we would bring in as a model for others and with regard to the hundred thousand people that it would give a raise to a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour."

(For the record, the $15 federal minimum wage pledge has been thoroughly criticized.)

Alternately, Liberal Party candidate Francis Drouin told VICE that the party will be trying to address post-secondary needs through indirect routes, such as making it easier for the middle class to thrive and providing economic opportunities for First Nations people and veterans to receive higher education.

When asked whether the Liberal Party would be proposing anything similar to that of the Green Party's plan to restructure student debt, Drouin said that he doesn't believe the Green's plan is economically feasible.

"As much as we'd love to offer free education, what we want to do is to attract the best talent," he said. "I'm not sure the Green Party plan is affordable, but what we want to do is continue helping families pay the rising costs of tuition."

Drouin could not confirm when the Liberal's full education platform would be announced.

Canadian Federation of Students' national chairperson Bilan Arte said that while they have made numerous suggestions to the federal parties, including initiatives to lower tuition and improve working conditions so graduates can find jobs to pay off their student loan debt, it has been "a waiting game" on their end.

"We are still anticipating and waiting on the position from the [NDP and Liberals] but we hope that they will take our ideas on student loan conditions and post-secondary education into consideration," she said to VICE.

Of course, there is the issue that provincial action on education (it is their jurisdiction after all) has been more progressive than that of the federal government.

Earlier this year, Newfoundland and Labrador (the province with the lowest tuition fees in the country) became the first province to eliminate student loans in order replace them with grant-only educational funding.

Similarly, the Alberta NDP held true to a campaign promise last week when they froze tuition fees for all Albertan students for the next two years.

When asked whether talks with government on the provincial or federal level has been more successful, Arte said that they both tend to point the other way.

"When we talk to the provinces, they tell us postsecondary education is a federal issue, but when we talk to politicians federally, they tell us it's a provincial issue. I would say it is both a federal and provincial issue and as a country, we are seriously lagging behind in making that relationship work."

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