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.