Mr. Speaker, today in Private Members' Business we are debating a motion brought forward by my colleague from Vancouver East having to do with post-secondary education. I would like to read the motion:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should reverse the privatization of Canada Student Loans, reject proposals for income contingent loan repayment, and should instead implement a federal student grant program and establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education.
I understand the motion. My colleague believes and urges support for a move to replace the necessity for student loans with outright grants to students which would not be repayable and to ensure that any student who wishes to pursue post-secondary education would be given the means to do so. I believe that is a correct understanding and I see my colleague agreeing with that summary of her proposal.
The issue is an extremely valuable one to discuss. Clearly there is an increasing feeling on the part of young people in the country that the cost of education is becoming greater, more and more of a burden. There are some who believe that the cost is becoming prohibitive in people pursuing an education who otherwise would wish to do so.
If that premise is true it certainly would need to be addressed very clearly. In a country such as Canada with a small population base our niche in the world economy clearly is one of technological and innovative expertise. We do not have the sheer horsepower that other countries have, but we certainly can have the brain power and the technological power that an above average education system can provide.
Solid education is a key to a dynamic Canada in the context of the global economy and to good jobs and secure jobs for the workforce. That is very important because working people are the ones who contribute to the social security measures that we have in place, as well as to their own well-being and the well-being of their families, and to future prosperity and quality of life in our country.
I think all parties acknowledge the key role that post-secondary education plays in Canadian society. We need to have high quality in this area with highly qualified instruction, with good facilities and top notch research equipment and programs, and with the money needed to pay the expenses of education, tuition, room and board, and books. We need to ensure that capable people, those with ability and academic interests, are not barred from pursuing that line of endeavour. There is very little to argue with in the proposal that students should have the means to pursue these opportunities.
The debate has centred around what is a reasonable means of contribution to the funding of the education of students. Education is expensive in terms not only of the time and talent of the people involved but also in terms of dollars. There is a legitimate debate about who should bear the costs of that educational activity.
Should the student pay any of the costs at all? I think my colleague is suggesting the costs should be borne entirely by others in society and then in due course the student would gain the expertise to contribute toward the education of others later on.
The question I would pose to her—and perhaps she can address it as she wraps up the debate—is one of fairness. Students receiving an education clearly have an enhanced tool in their hand to earn and to provide a life for themselves and their family. Would it be fair to expect other people to bear all that cost although a great deal of the benefit will accrue to the student? It is not simply a matter of society benefiting although clearly society will, but also there is a personal benefit on the part of the student.
Another question comes to mind. Is there a human dimension that makes people value and put more individual effort into something in which they or their families have a personal investment as opposed to having no personal stake in the educational endeavour in question?
There is also a question of working people, many of whom have not had either the skill or the inclination to pursue academic studies, working at fairly low paying jobs at $7 or $8 an hour but having to pay substantial taxes to fund the cost of education of other people.
There are some fairness issues I would like to see addressed by the member which suggest to me that outright grants to any and all people who want to pursue post-secondary education may not be appropriate.
I understand that students at the present time are required to pay about a quarter of the actual cost of their education. This is up from about 14% in the early 1980s. It is a little lower than 18% which was the cost in the 1970s. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether it is fair to ask students and their families to fund a quarter of the cost of their post-secondary education themselves rather than those costs being totally borne by other working Canadians.
It is interesting to note that family incomes have risen substantially since 1970. Therefore, the burden of post-secondary education is not as great as it was 20 or 30 years ago. There is the serious issue of student debt and the availability of loans to pay the educational costs, but then the burden is on the student afterward. My Reform colleague who spoke before on this issue talked about some of the proposals we have put out into public debate to address that.
The other thing to notice is that students are hampered by this government in other ways. They have to pay EI premiums if they earn over $2,000 a year, even though they do not qualify for benefits. Students earning over $3,500 a year have to pay CPP premiums. Students earning just under $7,000 a year, which is certainly not enough to live on nor to go to school on, are subject to personal income tax. There is an anomaly here. Students are barely able to pay the freight even though they only pay 25% of the true costs of education, but their disposable income is being taken by government in payroll and other taxes. That is something to address as well.
The millennium scholarship fund, often talked about as the big assister of students, in reality will help less than 10% of students and they will be chosen by a board appointed by the government. That is not going to be of great excitement to most students.
Those are the issues we need to talk about in this debate. I commend the member for bringing forward this serious issue. I hope that she will respond to some of the concerns and balancing considerations which I have raised.