Post-secondary education looms large in election

The upcoming provincial election on Oct. 6 has the different political candidates fine tuning their platforms and getting to the streets to meet the different voting demographics.

However, all the parties realize that whoever takes office in Queen’s Park has a lot of influence on post-secondary education, so most candidates have spent a lot of time and effort on their education platforms.

“Post-secondary education is crucial to the province and to the future,” said John Milloy, current member of provincial parliament (MPP) for Kitchener Centre and minister of training, colleges and universities. “We want to make sure that finances are not a barrier to students to enter college or university.”

The Green Party, meanwhile is focusing on a tuition freeze and keeping universities and colleges accountable.

“We want to prohibit institutions from charging late fees, as well as institute tuition freeze for 2012 and 2013.” said Kitchener-Waterloo candidate J.D. McGuire. “We’d also like to prohibit institutions from charging different fees in the same year of study.”

Isabel Cisterna, NDP candidate for Kitchener-Waterloo said that, “Post-secondary education is very important to me, and tackling high tuition fees is a very big deal. But we’re not just dealing with tuition, it’s about the cost of living as well.”

According to Progressive Conservative party candidate for Kitchener-Waterloo Elizabeth Witmer, the PC’s focus meanwhile, “is making sure that students pursuing a post-secondary education have the opportunity for a job afterwards.”

And though all parties have a specific focus on post-secondary education, the Liberal party has their plan laid out in extreme detail. Eric Davis, Liberal candidate for Kitchener-Waterloo explained that there are a few promises his party is making to post-secondary students, including 60,000 more spaces in colleges and universities (which is on top of the 200,000 spaces they have already created), as well as a 30 per cent tuition grant, three satellite campuses across Canada and keeping a cap on student debt.

“The Liberal party has an exceptionally strong platform,” Davis said passionately.
“When I was in school, I would have really appreciated all the help and the grants we’re trying to make available. I would be— I am excited.”

The 30 per cent tuition grant offered by the Liberal party, as explained by both Davis and Milloy, means that any student, whether or not they qualify for the Ontario Social Assistance Program (OSAP), can apply for a 30 per cent grant on their tuition if their total family income is less than $160,000 a year. If they qualify, they can receive up to $1,600 off their tuition bill, with no condition to pay it back.

This grant applies only to full-time, dependent students.

“We’re going to make sure [school] is affordable,” Davis said.

Davis chuckled slightly when asked about other parties’ education platforms.
“The NDP have nothing in their platform about post-secondary education,” he said. “But I’d be curious to find out what it is.”

“As for the [Progressive] Conservatives,” he continued, “their record is not great. They increased [education] fees by 67 per cent and cut funding by $45 million, which is no help to middle income families.”

Green candidate McGuire however, is skeptical of the plan the Liberals have presented.

“Their plan sounds excellent on paper,” he said. “But that grant? That’s going to cost a lot of money, and that has to come from somewhere— either increased taxes or social program cuts, and students will be affected by those as well.”
He went on saying, “The Green party has a more balanced and realistic approach.”

But Davis insisted that the Liberal platform was modest and sensible, which he deemed fitting because these are sensible times.

“Liberal history with post-secondary education is very good,” Davis said.

“We look at what we’re promising as a reasonable, important step. Our platform has been fully costed and we’re strategic about our promises.” He continued to say that Liberals chose to spend the most money on post-secondary education, “because it intersects with so many other sectors like the economy, jobs, health, the environment. It’s great to have a well educated community.”

Sean Madden, vice president of university affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University and president of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance (OUSA), said that, “the Liberal party is taking, what I think, is a fantastic step, and I applaud them for lowering the sticker shock of seeing tuition, without seeing options that are available.”

In a kick off campaign held by the Conservatives on September 7, Witmer said, “we can’t continue the waste. The Liberals acknowledged before that the story they were telling was false and people cannot afford [Premier Dalton] McGuinty’s tax increases. Our platform however, has been carefully costed.”

Liberal candidate Milloy, commented that, “The PCs say we’re big spenders. I think they put forward something like 224 promises? We put out 45 commitments.”

The Green party, though historically unheard over the bickering between Liberal and PC parties, was defended by J.D. McGuire when he said, “our plan is not difficult to keep or expensive to implement. We deal with the things students care about— we listen and learn.”

All of these platforms, however impressive, mean nothing unless people go out and vote.

“Regardless of who you want to vote for,” Cisterna said, “please go out and vote, don’t take it for granted.”

“At the end of the day,” Witmer added, “We just want students to be well informed. Obviously, there’s an obligation on everyone’s part to encourage participation and democracy.”

Cisterna gave a direct message to the student demographic, “the NDP has a great belief in young people, students in particular. They can create magic that can be so inspiring— they can move masses and influence people.”

“Students,” she continued, “can create long lasting, positive change. Please, go out and vote.”