Mr. Speaker, I am pleased for the opportunity to speak to the motion which calls upon the government to address the challenges facing many young Canadians as they seek to finance their post-secondary education.
To begin with, I commend the hon. member for her concern for the educational needs of young Canadians. I assure her and other members of the House that the government is concerned about the issue of accessibility to post-secondary education and is working hard to address it. We have made it a key priority from our first day in office since we know that having a good education and getting the right skills are key to the future of our youth and the economic well-being of the country.
However, I disagree with a number of points in the hon. member's motion such as some of her premises which suggest that we have privatized the Canada students loans program and that we want to turn students over to bill collectors. This is not true. Another premise is that we need to implement a whole new federal government student grant program presumably because nothing of any value is currently in place. A third premise is that we need to establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education because once again the member seems to feel we are not doing enough in this area.
Nevertheless I agree with the underlying motive in the motion, namely the desire to ensure full access to post-secondary education for all students who qualify, no matter where they live or what their family circumstances. I state unequivocally that this is also a priority of our government.
To make sure we got things right we consulted with students, their families, our provincial partners and officials in post-secondary educational and training institutions to find out what challenges students face and how we can work with them to address the issues they face.
One of the things students told us was that they needed better access to financial assistance. Families told us that they needed some help in saving for their children's education. As a direct result of these consultations the last budget contained 13 new measures aimed at improving access to post-secondary education for those students who might find it difficult to pursue this goal without financial assistance.
These measures included, first, the millennium scholarship fund that will provide grants to 100,000 students annually based on their financial need and academic merit and, second, changes to the Canada student loans program that help students repay their loans. For example, we included a 17% tax credit on the interest they are paying on their loans each year. The borrower can also ask the lending institution to extend the loan repayment period for 15 years, which can lower monthly payments by nearly 25% at current rate. Third, there are Canada study grants to help those in need. Fourth, we are also encouraging families to save for their children's education by providing a Canada education saving grant of 20% on the first $2,000 of annual contributions made to a registered education savings plan for children up to age 18.
On the last point, even if they set aside $30 per month each year, they will get a grant of 20% of the total contribution each year from the Government of Canada. If they contribute the full $2,000 they can receive the maximum grant of $400. This has already proven to be a very popular savings vehicle.
As members are aware, some special students face special challenges in pursuing their education. For example, students with disabilities face multiple issues relating to access.
To address these special needs the government is trying to make sure they get the assistance they need to enjoy equal access. Some of these involve financial considerations while others relate to long outmoded ways of thinking which emphasize disability rather than recognition of special ability. For instance, students with permanent disabilities such as deafness, blindness or other physical or learning disabilities are eligible for a Canada study grant of up to $5,000 a year to cover exceptional education related costs that might result from the disability. That amounts to an increase of $2,000 or a 67% increase in our support for these students.
These funds may also be used to cover such exceptional expenses as the cost of a tutor, an interpreter, attendant care or any other special assistance required by students with disabilities to allow them to undertake or continue their studies.
I might add that this is not just a one-shot effort but is part of an ongoing commitment by the government to assess the needs of students with disabilities in order to help them take their rightful place in post-secondary education and training. There are also grants for high need part time students, students with dependants and women wishing to pursue certain doctoral studies.
This shows the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring the widest possible access to post-secondary education. Contrary to what the motion claims, the Government of Canada has not privatized our system of student financial assistance. Rather we are working in partnership with students, families, educational and financial institutions to make sure that every student with the qualifications, ability and desire can get the help they need to continue. It shows that our loan and grant programs are opening up learning opportunities to the full spectrum of Canadian students.
We have put a clearly defined action plan in place which is helping to improve the accessibility of post-secondary education for all students, no matter what their family circumstances or special needs.
Because of this the motion before us today, while well intentioned, is unnecessary and could actually harm the progress being made in helping students. For this reason I intend to vote against it and I would urge other members to do likewise.