Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today as the education critic for the NDP to present our party's views on this motion presented by the Bloc Quebecois in their opposition day motion.
First, the NDP sympathizes with the frustrations that are expressed in this motion that we are debating today in the House. I think there is a great sense of frustration not just from the Bloc but also from other political parties, and more important from the people of Canada and from students who have been affected by a very great crisis in post-secondary education in terms of how the announcements were made about this millennium fund.
We have to recognize that the millennium fund that has been the showpiece of the Liberal budget was announced with absolutely no consultation. There was no consultation with the provinces. There was not consultation with professionals nor with students in the post-secondary educational field. This announcement came out of the blue after the throne speech, allegedly from the Prime Minister as his legacy to his term in political office. We have to ask the question, is that any way for the government to do its business?
I heard a member from the government ask earlier why is the opposition shouting so loud about this motion and about the millennium fund?
Opposition members, certainly those in the NDP, are shouting loud because we understand that the millennium fund has more to do with political grandstanding, has more to do with political image making, than it does with solving the very deep crisis that we have surrounding post-secondary education in Canada.
The millennium fund was announced to stave off the severe and growing criticism that has come from students, academics and our post-secondary educational facilities because of the crisis that we have.
Let us talk a bit about the funding.
We have heard that this fund will be $2.5 billion. That sounds to me like an enormous amount of money. I cannot even visualize what $2.5 billion looks like. However, I do understand this. By the time this fund begins in the year 2000, we will have lost $3.1 billion from post-secondary education. The $2.5 billion will only begin, over a 10 year period, at $250 million a year.
We really have to put this into context and understand that because of what the Liberal governments have bled from the system, their slash and burn approach to post-secondary education, we have lost billions of dollars. This announcement of $2.5 billion does not come anywhere close to replacing what has been taken from the system.
The figures are well known. The millennium fund will help approximately 7% of Canadian students. We are talking about 100,000 students a year. What is more serious is that the choice the government made to hand out cheques to students will not address the systemic problem which we have in post-secondary education.
The millennium fund and the other measures which were announced will not decrease tuition fees or set the stage to ensure that tuition fees will remain stable. What the government chose to do was to help in a very small way students who are facing an increasing debt load without increasing funding by way of transfers to the provinces.
The other question which needs to be addressed is that we still do not know whether the millennium fund will be a needs-based program or whether it will be a scholarship program. Every indication is that it will be a program based on scholarship. Again this is a mistargeted, misdirected program which does not address the key issue of students who are in financial need because of skyrocketing tuition fees which are a direct result of lack of government funding.
Another concern which we have in our party, and certainly one which I have heard from students in my riding of Vancouver East, is over the complexity of the system. A whole new level of grants or scholarships is being put into place. It is a privately run foundation. I pity the poor student who has to figure out what it is they are able to access, even if it is a few hundred dollars, under the new system.
The concern which I believe is the most serious is that the government has set up a private foundation to administer the millennium fund. It has already been stated that the president or the chair of the new foundation will be the CEO of Chrysler Canada. I believe there is a real danger that this government is taking us down the slippery slope of privatization and corporatization of post-secondary education.
The government should have restored public funding and public confidence to these facilities, to the universities, colleges and technical institutions which are crying out due to the lack of provincial funding caused by the lack of federal funding.
What we now have is a privatized foundation which will be setting the direction, the criteria and the rules which we will not be privy to. We have no idea what they will be. They will be left to the private foundation to decide and there will be a creeping and growing corporate influence.
Members of our party have listened very carefully to what students and academics in the educational community have said in Canada. We have been listening. I want to ask the government why it has not been listening. The message from students and others in the field has been loud and clear. In fact, the leadership which has been shown by organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Students and provincial education ministers has been loud and clear. The Liberal government has turned a deaf ear to the pleas which have come from that community.
What we needed to see and what we wanted to see was national standards in terms of the budget and a new era for post-secondary education. We believe that passionately in the NDP. We need a federal government that is willing to work co-operatively with the provincial and territorial jurisdictions, including the people of Quebec and the Government of Quebec.
We must have a new national standard for accessibility in post-secondary education. That is something the government has not been willing to canvass. It has not been willing to sit down at the table to work out a co-operative and collaborative approach with provincial jurisdictions or to say that federal money will be tied to accessibility for students to ensure they have access whether they are low income or are affluent.
Right now the tragedy is that basically education is no longer a right. It has become a privilege only for those who have the affluence and the means to afford it.
We would also want to see put forward a tuition freeze. In my province of British Columbia the provincial government has shown leadership for the third year in a row with a tuition freeze. We have called on the federal government to work with the provinces to show that same kind of leadership.
The measures announced in the millennium fund will in no way provide stabilization for tuition fees. We will continue to see them skyrocket.
We have called, students have called and others in the field have called for a national grants program. This is something that we expect to see from the federal government in terms of vision and leadership. It would not be a private foundation but a national grants program in co-operation with the provinces.
The students of Canada and others have been demanding an adequate level of funding. It is scandalous that, despite all the claims by the Liberal government, program spending in the federal budget has actually decreased from $106.5 billion to $104 billion. By the year 2000 we will have lost over $3 billion from post-secondary education.
The students of Canada need help today. They need provincial governments including the province of Quebec working with other provincial governments and the federal government and showing leadership to provide assistance to young people and to ensure accessibility for students. Regrettably the evidence is clear that the latest measures by the Liberal government are not taking us in that direction. They are taking us in the direction of privatization and corporatization of our publicly funded post-secondary education system.