Originally published as an Op-Ed in the Ottawa Citizen
Finance Minister Bill Morneau lauded the 2017 federal budget as the budget that will “help Canadians get the skills they need to drive our economy forward.” What the budget fails to address is the significant price tag on learning and skills training in this country: tuition fees.
Tuition fees in Canada have never been higher, and come September, fees will continue to rise in most parts of the country. A diploma in aviation technology at Seneca College in Toronto costs more than $18,000 in tuition. A medical degree from McMaster University costs almost $28,000 a year. These astronomical costs lead to record levels of student debt.
The amount owing to the Canada Student Loans Program increases by nearly $1 million a day, and total public student debt in Canada has surpassed $28 billion; and that doesn’t even cover credit card debt or lines of credit.
The word “innovation” is mentioned in the budget document 246 times – but what does it really mean?
Students are innovators. Students are developing cutting-edge research to improve everyday life, developing ideas to solve the biggest challenges facing Canada, crafting plans for future businesses and learning trades that our communities rely upon. If our government truly wants to drive innovation in this country, it should start by reducing financial barriers to pursing higher education and skills training.
To put a finer point on it, more than 70 per cent of new jobs today require some form of post-secondary education, whether it is a diploma, degree or skilled trade. At a time when post-secondary education is such a vital part of our society, isn’t it time that our government embraced an approach that does not result in students graduating into a debt sentence?
Budget 2017 did offer a sign of hope that if we come together and organize around our frustrations, we can and will see change.
The federal government was elected on a promise to invest in Indigenous people’s pursuit of post-secondary education, recognizing that access to education is both their inherent and treaty right. Funding to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) had been capped since 1996 and for 20 years, funding fell far behind the demand for post-secondary education, rising tuition fees and increasing living costs. As a result, thousands of Indigenous learners were denied support every single year. Last year, as we watched the unveiling of the Trudeau government’s first budget in 2016, this funding for Indigenous students was noticeably absent.
For the past year, students have organized to hold the government accountable for its broken promise. Students launched a national petition drive, mobilized for a National Day of Action, appeared before House and Senate committees and met with more than 150 MPs and senators. On Wednesday, the government made a $90-million investment in funding for Indigenous students; not out of the kindness of its heart, but because students, united through the Canadian Federation of Students, made it impossible for this promise to be broken twice.
While the investment is not enough to fund every First Nations, Métis and Inuit learner, it is estimated that an additional 4,600 people will receive funding. We will continue campaigning until every Indigenous person in this country is able to pursue an education.
Students won’t wait until the next election to see action on issues we are about; whether it’s rising tuition fees, inaccessible childcare or the privatization of public infrastructure. We need to speak the truth, seek justice for wrongdoings, mobilize our communities and remain persistent.