Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the motion. Education should be the foundation of our country and of our future. Unfortunately that is not what is happening and it is not what we are facing.
What I would like to contrast here is Yukon, which is not a rich jurisdiction by any means. It is very poverty stricken in a lot of instances and has boom and bust cycles. For decades it has provided $5,000 a year for five years to any student who graduates from a Yukon high school. They can use that money to attend any institution as long it is accredited and as long as they are accepted. It is a recognition of how valuable education is and how we need to support it in our young so that they can take their place in society.
I contrast that to the proposed millennium scholarship fund which will not be available for another two years. It will provide $3,000 a year for a very few number of students based on merit. We do not know whom they will be. It will not be administered by the government. We will not have any say in it. I am glad there is some recognition and that some amount of money will be there, but it does not form a foundation of an education system, certainly not one for a country that wants to move into the future with strength.
What we have seen happening is the gutting of our post-secondary funding with a cut of $550 million. I know the only college in Yukon is in Whitehorse and it has had to cut courses. HRDC is no longer buying seats for people to be trained in so there is another cut there, causing even more suffering and downgrading of courses that are available to educated and trained students.
The Canada student loans have been privatized. Students are graduating with huge debts and into unemployment with no hope of paying off the debts they incurred for their education in order to benefit not just themselves but their communities.
Where the government has moved out, the banks have moved in. The difference is that the banks have no concern for the education of our students or the development of our country. They are not accountable to the public. They do not have to report to us. They are not concerned with educating our artists, our musicians, our scientists, our economists, our carpenters, our electricians, our humanitarians or our doctors.
This Liberal agenda erodes and destroys publicly funded and supported post-secondary education in more ways than one. By the year 2000, 45% of new jobs will require a post-secondary education, but at the same time in the past 10 years tuition has gone up by 240%. Most people who do not go to university who could, or do not go to college who could, do not do it because they cannot afford it. They will never be able to afford it on a minimum wage job.
Debt per student has risen from $13,000 in 1993 when the Liberals came into power up to around $25,000. In the maritimes I am told it is even more than that, well over $30,000 worth of debt. With tuition that is $3,000 per year on average per student, what kind of summer jobs will bring in enough money for students to pay their tuition, pay their living, pay their books and work to educate themselves? How do banks treat students who have incurred this debt? One missed payment equals a default.
An elderly first nations man called my office in Yukon because he cannot pay his debt. He has phoned every day. It is not that he is trying to avoid paying his debt or trying to avoid work. He takes any kind of work he can get, any little scrap of work he can get to make a living. He is often forced on to welfare, of which he is very ashamed. He bought one small filing cabinet and was hounded. He got it at a garage sale and was hounded because he bought it. He does not even have a bed. He sleeps on a foamy.
He is afraid to answer his phone. He is driven to distraction, and this is a man who was put through the residential school system by this very same government. He pulled himself through that. He educated himself. He wants to work and he does work when he can, but he is hounded every day.
In 1995 the Liberals gave the banks responsibility for the loans. Where they used to be fully guaranteed by the government they no longer are. The last budget provides a clause giving banks more power to refuse student loans. This clause goes on outside the scrutiny of the House of Commons. Will the banks determine who studies, what is profitable to study, and where students buy their products from?