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House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

November 16th, 2007 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the benefits of Bill C-284.

My mother was a janitoress and I was the first one in our family ever to go to university. I could not have done it without a student loan. Perhaps that is why I have spent so much time listening to student leaders about their concerns.

When I see so many earnest young Canadians working to convince the government that their concerns are valid, I am frustrated by the government's refusal to respond to such a legitimate and well-documented case.

In Thunder Bay, Confederation College student union president, Jon Hendel, has forwarded the document “Sleepwalking Towards the Precipice”, which was researched in partnership with many provincial and national student alliances.

One of their main concerns is the looming $350 million cut to financial aid. The mandate of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which distributes $350 million in student aid annually, is set to expire in 2009. The foundation was established in 1998 by the Liberal Government of Canada with the mandate of improving access to post-secondary education.

Eliminating $350 million from the Canadian financial aid system will have a disastrous impact on the accessibility and affordability of a post-secondary education. Currently, the foundation provides assistance to over 100,000 students annually, making it responsible for about 30% of all non-repayable grants awarded in Canada.

To avert disaster requires immediate action. The federal government must continue to provide a commitment equal to or greater than the foundation's original endowment in non-repayable student financial assistance. This would require the government to provide, at a minimum, a $2.5 billion base endowment to the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The endowment must also be indexed annually, starting from 1999, to account for inflation and enrolment growth.

Andrew Kane, the manager of financial aid at Confederation College, tells me that over $5 million has been directed to the college since the program began. This is quite a significant amount. He is deeply saddened that this program will be cancelled since it is a direct investment in the students who need it most.

I have received a diploma myself from Confederation College, as well as a master's from York and a B.A. from Lakehead University, and I am proud to have those as my alma maters.

Thunder Bay's Lakehead University student union president, Richard Longtin, confirmed in a recent meeting some amazing statistics. Since 1999, 5,832 Lakehead University students have received $17,528,482 in scholarships and bursaries. In this past academic year alone, 926 students received $2.745 million. Those obviously are a significant set of numbers.

Lakehead University's financial aid administrator wrote to me and said:

It is easy to see that the impact of this program on students at Lakehead University is immense. I have no doubt that these programs have provided the opportunity for many students to attend Lakehead University who otherwise might not have been able to afford a post-secondary education.

The College Student Alliance adds strength to the debate for inclusion. It recommends investment in more non-repayable grants targeted at unrepresented students from low income families, aboriginal communities, first generation and persons with disabilities.

The Canadian Federation of Students met with me regarding the need for a national system of needs based grants. Just yesterday, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, CASA, articulated its issues in its education policy brief entitled, Strengthening Canada's Future: Real Solutions From Canada's Students.

It is very inspiring to meet with such intelligent and motivated young leaders, especially those who so thoughtfully propose reasonable and workable solutions. Of note, they advise that the government must ensure that post-secondary funding is truly dedicated funding. The government must work with the provinces to develop objectives for post-secondary education funding as well as mechanisms to ensure funding is directed toward meeting those goals.

Additional federal transfer funding for post-secondary education must not displace existing funding. Federal transfer funding for post-secondary education should be increased to a minimum level of $4 billion in annual cash transfers and increased annually according to inflation and demographic growth.

The Vancouver based Coalition for Student Loan Fairness has prepared a comprehensive report, entitled “An Eight-Point Plan for Reform”. This reform addresses all levels of concern that constituents have discussed with me.

Point one recommends that the federal government significantly reduce or eliminate the interest rate on student loans. With interest rates of 8.75% to 11.25%, borrowers end up paying interest of over 35% over the lifetime of the loan.

Point two calls for improved access to grants, interest relief and debt reduction. This would include promotion to ensure that all borrowers who need this are aware of it.

Point three calls for the creation of a student loan ombudsman's office which would have the power to prescribe resolutions to service providers, including banks and credit reporting offices.

Points four, five and six speak to creating efficiencies with the recording and payment of student loans. Graduates would be able to expect one integrated loan and one payment with real-time access to statements.

Often, bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own. Points seven and eight address some of those remedies, including the provision of hardship relief.

How serious is student debt? Currently, Canadian students owe the federal government about $800 million in defaulted student loans. The coalition says that nearly $98 million of that amount is interest.

Under an access to information request, the group has also determined that Ottawa is spending more money collecting defaulted loans than in ensuring its interest relief and debt reduction programs are accessible to students. Clearly, changes are needed.

The goal of Bill C-284 is to break down barriers to higher education.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation study on Canada's tuition and education tax credits is clear proof that providing an $80 tax break on books is bad policy. The incompetence that took us billions of dollars into debt in the early 1990s and late 1980s, and that the Liberal Party dug us out of, continues. As an example, the move last year to kill thousands of jobs created under the summer career placement program has ended up being nothing short of a disaster for students.

I strongly support CASA's support of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. We know that 95% of the money goes to targeted needs. All provinces and territories belong. It operates with a very efficient 4% overhead compared to 28% for the Canada student loans program.

Let us stand up for our students and tell the government that it should be listening to our student leaders and implementing these proposals immediately.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I would like to thank all of my hon. colleagues who have participated in the debate today.

My colleague from Prince Edward—Hastings spent a fair amount of time during his discussion talking about the government's record of achievement in the post-secondary field. It is certainly a record to be proud of, especially when compared to the records of cuts and inaction by the previous Liberal government.

I will get into how this government is getting results for students, getting things done for students and Canadian parents in a little more detail, but first I want to discuss why this bill simply will not work, and the reasons that I and my colleagues will be voting against it.

It has become clear in the hours of debate and committee study of the bill that have already taken place that it is the responsibility of the provinces and territories that want to take part in the Canadian access grants program to do the groundwork, to implement the program and to deliver it to the students. Yet in the drafting of the bill, the hon. member for Halifax West consulted with exactly zero provinces. In effect, he was flying on one wing, and that does not get one very far. Not only were the provinces not consulted on the drafting of the bill, they do not even support it after the fact.

During the committee process, not a single province came forward in support of the proposals outlined in this bill, not one province. The provinces that have provided statements on this bill have said they would not be in a position for several years to participate in this bill. The provinces have been asked if they support the bill and they have answered with a resounding no.

This government was elected on a pledge to do business in Ottawa differently. That is just what we are doing. The age of Liberal federalism, that big brother will look after the whole country including the provinces, of forcing the provinces to bend to the will of the federal government, is over. Mr. Speaker, you know that and I know that.

The Prime Minister and this Conservative government have pledged to work with the provinces, not against them, and not overriding them on a continuous basis like the previous Liberal government did.

We were elected to be government based on that pledge, because the people in the provinces and the provincial leaders like that pledge. That is why we are here.

This government can only support proposals that are brought before the House if they have the support of the provinces, that is for sure, especially when it would be the provinces that would do all the work. The provinces have to be consulted, and in this case, they simply were not.

No longer will the federal government impose its will on provinces and territories. That was our pledge during the January 2006 election. The Canadian people liked that. The provinces liked that and they still like it, especially in areas of provincial jurisdiction. We are not the previous Liberal government. We are the new Conservative government that respects the provincial jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. That is the truth.

This bill seeks to impose the federal government will on the provinces, and we simply will not support it. As I mentioned before, provinces that want to take part in this program are responsible for the implementation and delivery of this program. However, some provinces, most provinces, and most notably Quebec, have a similar program already under way in their province. It is of their own and they are receiving alternative payments in order to run those programs.

The proposals outlined in this bill, of course, would remove the right of provinces to receive these alternative payments. It would be like telling the province of Quebec that it cannot have its own program and that it cannot keep receiving the funding from the federal government to run its own program because the federal government will impose its program on the province.

Once again, this is no longer the former Liberal government. This is the new Conservative government and we are committed to working with the provinces.

I have been told that this bill would strip millions of dollars from some provinces and territories, money that low income and disabled students use now to pay for university and college. I am searching for a reason why the sponsor of this bill would continue to support it knowing that it would strip all these millions of dollars from existing students under other programs.

I have a hard time imagining what his remaining Quebec colleagues, for example, would have to tell their constituents if this bill were to pass, that no longer are the students in Quebec going to be eligible for the assistance they are getting through the provincial program, moneys provided by the federal government.

I have to guess that taking money out of education, taking money out of the pockets of students and the parents of students is old hat for the former Liberal government, but this government will not support that. It never will. This is the new Conservative government. We do things a new way and we do it with respect for the provinces and territories in this country. We will only support initiatives that provide for education, not take away the funding.

Ignoring the provinces and taking millions away from Quebec are not the only problems with this bill. These are the biggest problems, but not the only ones. Adopting the proposals of this bill would severely limit the flexibility of the government to make timely changes to the program when those changes need to be made. It is important that the specifics of this program remain within the regulatory framework rather than be enshrined in some tight legislation that would impede its flexibility dramatically.

The future of Canadian students is too important to be hindered and delayed by the politics of this place, especially given the delay and stall tactics used by the opposition to slow down meaningful changes to a wide variety of programs in this minority Parliament.

I know that some Liberal members across the way are amazed that they are being reminded of how they participate in this Parliament, but unfortunately, that is the truth. It comes as no surprise to Canadian students that it is this government that has reversed the Liberal cutbacks made to post-secondary education, the cuts that were made during more than a decade that the Liberals were in power.

They know it was the Prime Minister and the finance minister that brought in our plan called Advantage Canada, a great plan, a plan that will ensure that we will turn this ship around now and into the future. That is why this government in just 22 short months has moved to support Canadian students in so many ways.

We have committed substantial tax relief to help students and parents with the high cost of textbooks. It is why we have exempted scholarships and bursaries from income tax, because the government should reward academic achievement and not profit from it. That is why we have committed over $35 million to expand the Canada graduate scholarship program to help an additional 1,100 students every year move on to graduate level studies. This is our record and it is worth talking about.

I thank the members from the Bloc who have finally listened to members on this side of the House, this Conservative government, and realized that the proposals in this bill are bad for the province of Quebec, bad for the other provinces and territories, and bad for Canadian students. I thank the Bloc members for voting against this bill because they realize it is just not worth their support.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The question is on Motion No. 1. The vote on the motion will also apply to Motions Nos. 2 and 3. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Student Financial Assistance ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 21, 2007, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:19 p.m., the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:19 p.m.)