Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.
I will focus my remarks on the section of the motion that calls on the government to make focused and immediate investments to reduce financial barriers that now stand in the way of students seeking greater access to post-secondary education, including, most particularly, grant programs aimed at offsetting the high cost of tuition.
The critical importance of higher education is clear, not only for the economy but for individual achievement, advances in research and Canada's competitiveness in the knowledge based global economy.
Let us compare the current government's support for post-secondary education to that of the previous Liberal government. The differences are huge and highlight the divide between the two parties on this issue.
Liberals are committed to creating an opportunity for every Canadian to succeed by ensuring that Canadians of all incomes have access to first class education and opportunities. We were doing this by working with the provinces and territories to reduce financial barriers to post-secondary education through a range of grants, loans, tax and savings support programs.
The previous government contributed almost $9 billion annually to support post-secondary education through programs and transfers to students, institutions, provinces and researchers. However, we were prepared to go further. A re-elected Liberal government was set to increase this very substantial commitment by more than $4 billion in new resources over the next five years. I was proud of the measures in our election platform to increase access to post-secondary education. I would be happy to run on these policies again.
I will now outline the areas in which our party would have moved forward by increasing federal funding in the following areas.
First, the is fifty-fifty. A Liberal government would have paid one-half of an undergraduate's first year and graduating year tuition to a maximum grant of $3,000 in any year or a total of $6,000. This new fifty-fifty plan would have been available to any student pursuing a first degree or diploma from an accredited university, community college or other post-secondary program in Canada.
Qualifying students would have been those commencing undergraduate education beginning in 2007-08. The plan would have been delivered through the Canada student loan program. Currently, the governments of Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not participate in this program, so we would have had to work with them on alternate payment programs.
However, by providing the first payment at the beginning of a student's post-secondary education, the fifty-fifty plan would have provided families and students with the incentive to begin undergraduate studies. The second payment would have provided an additional incentive for students to complete their programs.
Since the fifty-fifty plan would have been available only for study in Canada, it would have given young Canadians a further incentive to support schools in our country.
The fifty-fifty plan was expected to have a net cost of roughly $1.9 billion to 2010-11 and $600 million per year when fully phased in, by which time it would have supported an estimated 750,000 students each year.
An example of the potential benefits of the fifty-fifty plan in North Vancouver would have been to students wishing to pursue a career in the growing film industry in British Columbia, an industry that contributes over $1 billion a year to the B.C. economy and over $100 million per year to the North Vancouver economy.
The Capilano College Film Centre, for example, offers a wide range of full time programs that prepares students for a variety of career paths in the film production industry. The largest of these, the motion picture production program, now offers second and third year programs designed specifically for emerging entrepreneurial filmmakers. The program has existed for only eight years and is already producing festival worthy films.
The costuming for the theatre and film program and the cinematography program also both have second year programs in development . For those who seek entry level craft training in the film business, the film centre also offers courses in lighting, grip and set dressing. The film centre is also the home of the apprenticeship programs, run in conjunction with the B.C. branch of the Directors Guild of Canada.
Another area in which our party would have moved forward was expanding of Canada access grants. In the 2004 budget the Liberal government created Canada access grants to make post-secondary education more accessible for children from low income families, generally those with incomes below $35,000 a year. The grant paid the first half of the first year tuition, capped at $3,000. This benefited more than 20,000 students.
A Liberal government would have extended the Canada access grant to be available for up to the full four years of undergraduate study. This extension would have cost approximately $550 million over the next five years and would have benefited a further 55,000 students. A student qualifying for a Canada access grant could not also receive the new fifty-fifty grant.
A Liberal government would have launched a comprehensive review of student financial assistance programs. In collaboration with the provinces and territories and other partners, the purpose of this review was to ensure student assistance programs continued to make post-secondary education accessible, and to identify areas where more support was needed.
One key area that would have been studied was access for students from middle income families and students with dependents to ensure they did not face insurmountable financial barriers. The review would have examined a range of potential measures such as grants, loans and ways to improve debt management, including reduced interest rates.
A Liberal government would have increased by 50% the support currently being given to the most promising masters and doctoral students in science, engineering and other disciplines through Canada graduate scholarships. The Liberal government established these prestigious scholarships in the 2003 budget, to be awarded through national competitions by the granting agencies to ensure a reliable supply of highly qualified personnel to meet the needs of Canada's knowledge economy. Canada graduate scholars also help renew faculty at Canadian universities who will be the research leaders of tomorrow.
Just this week I received a letter from a constituent of mine who was recently awarded a Canada graduate scholarship. His story not only puts a human face on this excellent program, but highlights the important research that is undertaken through the assistance that Canada graduate scholarships provide. He says:
I am writing you this letter to show my appreciation of the federal government's commitment to health care and health care related research. I am a graduate student at the University of British Columbia working towards a PhD degree in the department of Experimental Medicine. I was recently awarded a Canada Graduate Scholarships (GGS) Doctoral Award. I am very excited at the opportunities this award has and will continue to give me as I complete my degree.
I am working on a project where we are trying to better understand the differences present in the airways of patients who suffer from Asthma relative to those that do not. The overall goal is to develop a better understanding of the disease such that new treatments and therapies can be developed to improve the quality of life of those who suffer from asthma. The travel portion of the award will also allow me to present my research at international conferences which will permit the sharing of ideas and not only improve my work but will showcase some of the exciting work taking place in Canada with the help of the CIHR.
Thank you again, sincerely,
UBC/James Hogg iCAPTURE Centre
Another area in which our party would have moved forward was through the creation of the post-secondary educational innovation fund. Through this program, a Liberal government would have provided $1 billion to help modernize and improve post-secondary infrastructure, including teaching hospitals. The fund would have supported the acquisition of equipment, improved access for students with disabilities and enhance learning environments in northern and aboriginal institutions.
In the area of international study, and in order to create new opportunities for Canadians to study abroad and for more students to come to Canada, a Liberal government would have provided $150 million over five years to assist with the extra financial cost that international study entails. This initiative would have contributed to our objective of positioning Canada at the heart of global networks.
The Liberal Party's approach to post-secondary education was comprehensive and would have increased substantially the federal government's role in supporting students in all stages of post-secondary education.
The Conservative budget cancelled all of the above commitments made by the previous government, except the $1 billion in 2005-06 for provinces for investments in post-secondary infrastructure. In total, the Conservative budget cancelled funding worth $3.1 billion over five years, or over $600 million a year, and replaced it with $125 million a year for a tax credit for the cost of textbooks, providing only about $80 a year for a typical full time post-secondary student, $50 million a year for the elimination of taxation on scholarships and bursaries and $20 million a year for expanded eligibility for Canada student loans.
The Conservatives have clearly abandoned a wide range of programs that would have considerably increased access to post-secondary education. I am happy to therefore support the motion put forward by the hon. member for Halifax West.