Mr. Speaker, I draw to the attention of the House and the government the grave situation facing students in this country who are reeling under student loan debt and the crisis which is in our post-secondary institutions.
I raised a question in the House last week and asked the minister responsible what the government was prepared to do to provide real financial assistance to students.
The fact is that post-secondary education and student loan debt has now reached a crisis proportion. Despite the recommendations and announcements of the government on its intentions in the throne speech, the crisis continues.
There is a huge gap in the reality of what the government is saying, what it is purporting to do and what the reality is that is facing our institutions and students in this country.
If the Liberal government is truly committed, as it repeatedly says it is, to access an opportunity for young people in Canada, then why have we seen a cut of more than $2 billion in our post-secondary educational institutions since 1993? Why has there been a cut of $550 million this year alone?
The truth is that the government has shown by its actions, not by the rhetoric but by its actions that it does not care. It does not care about the student loan debts which students are facing in this country. It does not care that it is more difficult for our post-secondary institutions to deal with the financial crisis which is upon them.
Recently the Canadian Federation of Students produced a major report called the “Blueprint for Access ”. In that document they pointed out that the average debt load will be $25,000 for students by June 1998. That is up from $13,000 in 1993 when the Liberals took office. This is an appalling and shocking fact and shows the real lack of commitment this government has shown to young people and students.
In 1995-96 more than 7,800 students who received Canada student loans declared bankruptcy. Is this a healthy system? Does this demonstrate to us that students are coping in the institutions? The contrary is true.
Another astounding fact is that tuition fees in Canada have reached a national average of $3,100 which surpasses the average of publicly funded institutions in the United States. This is something Canadians are not aware of.
How has the government responded to this crisis? We have heard vague promises of the millennium fund. There was no consultation and this fund will not help students today who are graduating into poverty. What we need are national standards for accessibility. We need a real commitment of leadership from the government to help students today with financial assistance and a flexible program that will relieve the debt load. We do not need some vague promise about a scholarship fund in the millennium which will not help students who are in grave difficulty today.
We call on the government to end the rhetoric and to put into action accessibility as a national standard and to show leadership by providing the financial commitments to assist students today.