Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight for what may be my last chance before the 2008 budget to ask the government to fix student aid in Canada.
I ask on behalf of Veronika in Calgary, who owes over $50,000 on four different government loans. Instead of paying one lump sum, she must make four separate payments of $200 each month, which add up to more than half of her $20 an hour salary.
I ask on behalf of Deidre in Victoria, who has been in and out of mental health services since she was a full time student 10 years ago. Until I wrote to the VP of her bank, she was routinely hounded by collection agents, ineligible for any relief, even though her disability prevents her from long term employment.
I ask on behalf of a constituent who was turned down because her recurring bouts of cancer were not considered a permanent disability, a so-called gap for episodic illness.
I ask on behalf of Brian in Vancouver, a PhD student, whose loans were suddenly recalled in the middle of his degree, despite the federal government's promise that loans were not repayable for the duration of full time study.
I ask on behalf of medical residents who were here yesterday on the Hill and whose average debt of $160,000 means they pay two-thirds of their small residency salary toward student loans every month.
I ask on behalf of the new mother I recently met, who has started to worry about affording university for her children, while she herself has several years of payments left on her own student loan.
Ever since budget 2007 promised a review of Canada's student financial aid system, I and my NDP colleagues have asked that this rare opportunity be used to relieve the financial and emotional burden of student debt on young people starting out their careers, and to fix the many flaws and gaps that students have experienced.
We have proposed that budget 2008 create a federal grant system to offset student loans in every year of study, reduce the student loan interest rate, establish a student loan ombudsperson, improve and expand eligibility for debt relief programs, create standards for the conduct of student loan collection agents, postpone loan repayments and interest accrual during full time doctoral studies and medical residency, simplify repayment into one account with clear and regular statements, among other solutions.
The parliamentary secretary will surely tell us that her government is helping students. She may mention the textbook tax credit, which only pays out $80, or the increase in graduate scholarships.
The fact remains that the students whose stories I have briefly shared, and countless others in similar situations, have been left out of federal budgets for a long time. I do not need to hear that we must be patient for the budget. I want to hear a commitment to these students that the budget will not leave them behind again.
Could the parliamentary secretary assure me of that?