Mr. Speaker, the motion proposes that the government introduce a tax credit for Canada student loan principal repayments made by graduates who remain in Canada. The credit amount would be limited to 10% of the principal per year for the first 10 years after graduation.
I believe we can all relate to the challenges that students face today with higher tuition fees and student debt burdens. Is it different today from what it was in the past? I for one and probably all of us in the House worked our way through university to pay for our fees and our debts. Many university students today do the same. Some of them have jobs while they study.
The difference today is the steep increases in tuition fees. The member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough threw out a litany of numbers. I read something recently which said that for universities like Carleton and Ottawa University, the per student grant from the province has shrunk by about $1,500 a year, and at the University of Toronto by some $2,000 per student per year. The member opposite talked about a bigger number, $2,700. He talked about fees going up 125% and provincial grants going down 50%. I am not sure where the difference is made up. Obviously there are some cost pressures at the university level.
However, notwithstanding all the statistics, we do know that students are facing higher tuition fees and a greater debt burden.
While I can appreciate the intent of the motion from the member for Fundy--Royal, I believe the motion is wrong-footed for the following reasons. First, I cannot agree with an initiative that rewards individuals for discharging their responsibilities. It tells the students that if they pay their debts the government will reward them. In my view that is not what the tax system should be used for. I do not believe Canadian taxpayers would support this approach. Surely students must accept the responsibility to repay their student loans. Did they not have a choice when they took out the loan? Did they not commit to repay the loans?
However, rather than ignore the problem, we should be coming at the problem in two different directions.
First, the provinces and territories must discharge their responsibilities and adequately fund post-secondary education. That is their job. As I indicated earlier, provincial government grants, especially in provinces like Ontario where I live, have been significantly eroded over the years.
The Canada health and social transfer is the main program through which the federal government supports post-secondary education. In 2001-02 CHST cash will increase by some $2.8 billion. In 2002-03 it will grow to $19.1 billion, a $3.6 billion increase. By 2005-06, CHST cash will reach $21 billion, a $5.5 billion dollar or a 35% increase over 2000-01 levels.
At the same time, the tax transfer component of the CHST, which grows in line with the growth in the economy, provides increasing support to the provinces and territories, growing from $16.5 billion in 2000-01 to $18.8 billion in 2005-06. Anyone who says that the tax points do not count should ask why it is that the Quebec government wants more tax points. Clearly there is great value to them.
Together with the increases in CHST cash, total CHST will reach close to $40 billion in 2005-06 compared to approximately $32 billion last year.
Some individuals blame reductions in federal transfers as the reason for the declining investment in post-secondary education by the provinces. Allow me to debunk that theory yet again.
While federal transfers were reduced as we grappled with a $42 billion deficit left to us by the Tories, when we took office in 1993 federal transfer were cut much less than federal government departments, agencies and direct delivery programs.
Some provinces, like Ontario, have chosen tax cuts as a priority over investments in post-secondary education. I have a good example of this. If the Mike Harris Tories had reduced taxes by 25% instead of 30% in the first tax cut go around in the province of Ontario, they could have completely topped up the cuts in the transfers to the province. Is that such a difficult thing to ask?
It is time for the provinces and territories to take their responsibilities more seriously and increase funding to colleges and universities. This is the first and most important line of attack in keeping tuition fees in line with student economics.
Second, the federal government is able to make additional contributions to post-secondary education through directly delivered programs and through tax policy. The government has been doing exactly that and I will give some examples.
The Canada education savings grant is a grant of 20% on the first $2,000 of contributions made each year to registered education savings plans. This encourages and assists families in saving for their children's higher education.
The Canada millennium scholarships provide more than 90,000 students each year with scholarships averaging $3,000 a year to reduce the debt that they would otherwise have to incur.
Canada study grants of up to $3,000 provide assistance each year to approximately 25,000 students, including students with disabilities, high need part time students and students with dependants.
Tax measures that support post-secondary education have been enhanced, including the education tax credit, the tuition credit and the scholarship exemption. These measures make education more affordable.
The Canada student loans program has been enhanced to help graduates manage their student debt by increasing the number of people eligible for interest relief and providing debt reduction for those in extended financial difficulty. As well, students can now claim a tax credit for interest paid on federal and provincial student loans.
Finally, tax free registered retirement savings plan withdrawals and an extension of the education tax credit and child care expense deduction to part time students help Canadians upgrade their skills through their working life.
Another important area that enhances the quality of a student's experience at post-secondary educational institutions is in research and investments in research.
Key investments have been made by our government in every budget since fiscal balance was restored to increase Canada's research performance. These investments have greatly improved Canada's research climate. Moreover, they have built in financial momentum that will see greater support for research over the next several years.
To add further momentum, the last budget provided close to $1 billion of targeted investments over three years to promote leading edge research and to sustain Canada's leadership in innovative uses of the Internet.
In recent years the government has made significant investments in research conducted in universities and research hospitals. The benefits of such research include new products, services, therapies and industry practices that contribute to economic growth, a higher quality of life for Canadians and a better educational experience for students.
Universities and research hospitals have been highly supportive of these investments. However they have expressed concerns about their rising indirect costs; that is expenses associated with administration, maintenance and commercialization activities that are not covered by direct federal funding for research.
In budget 2000 and in the most recent budget the federal government has again stepped up to the plate to provide support for indirect administration costs, support which the provinces and territories should be providing. We are providing the research dollars and research chairs. In budget 2000 the government provided a one time $200 million grant to help with those costs. We increased the budgets for the National Research Council, the granting councils, the NSERC and the SSHRC. These are all things which enhance a student's life on campus.
Let us get on with the job of investing in post-secondary education to achieve tuition fees that are affordable and to enhance the educational experience for students in colleges and universities.
While the motion is well intended, it does not really do that job. It is for that reason that I will not be supporting it.