Students stage protests over high tuition fees
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, February 7, 2007 11:25PM EST
University and college students held rallies across Canada Wednesday, demanding more affordable education through lower tuition rates and increased government funding.
Amanda Aziz, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, attended the Ottawa rally on Parliament Hill, one of 30 held in cities across Canada.
The students are calling for a national plan that would protect students from unreasonable tuition increases, Aziz told CTV Newsnet.
The organization estimates that Canada's one million-plus post-secondary students are carrying a debt load of $20 billion, with a growth rate of $1.5 million every day.
"We're looking for the federal government to finally meet its responsibility for students and Canadians across the country," Aziz said.
"We have been calling for a post-secondary education act, something that would enshrine principles of accessibility and high quality accountability in the system, something similar to the Health Care Act in the country."
The protests from St. John's, Nfld., to Victoria, B.C., are the result of a year-long campaign to bring attention to the effects of high tuition fees and deep student debt, Ian Boyko of the Canadian Federation of Students told The Canadian Press.
Boyko said governments can't claim they have no money to fund post-secondary education when provinces like Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are making life easier for students.
"Quebec has a terrific record of keeping education affordable; fees in Quebec are about half the national average and college is free,'' Boyko said.
"And Newfoundland and Labrador is also a place where there have been tuition fee reductions and a real attempt by successive governments to keep education affordable."
Aziz said tuition rates in Nova Scotia are the highest in Canada, followed by Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta.
But rates have increased dramatically across the country and are now three times as high as when most politicians went to college or university, Aziz said.
"Accompanied with that is sky-level and mortgage-sized student debt levels when students graduate, and that affects the graduate's ability to participate in the economy after graduation, having $28,000 or $40,000 or even $60,000 in debt if you go to graduate school."
Both Boyko and Aziz called on politicians to answer the call.
Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff raised the issue during question period in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
"The government has done nothing to improve access to post-secondary education, it's done nothing to help low-income families to send their kids to college and it's done nothing to help aboriginal Canadians seeking higher education. Why has this government wasted a year before developing a strategy for investment in post-secondary education?" he said.
Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg countered by saying the government has introduced apprenticeship program grants, removed tax on bursaries and eliminated the textbook credit.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed out that tuition fees are set by the provinces, suggesting the federal government wouldn't be wading into their territory.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who has three sons in university, said he realizes tuition fees are high, but said his government has done its part by investing $6.2 billion over five years.
As a result, McGuinty said, more Ontario students are attending post-secondary institutions and receiving grants than in the past decade.
Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Bentley also called on the federal government to kick in.
"The McGuinty government is investing, taxpayers in Ontario are investing, students are making an additional contribution, and we need Ottawa to step up,'' Bentley said.
"We need the federal government ... to make sure that their per capita funding for students in the province of Ontario matches what it is elsewhere.''
However, many students give the McGuinty government a low grade, saying he should have maintained a freeze on tuition. McGuinty froze tuition for two years.
"Dalton McGuinty was elected on a platform promise to freeze tuition fees and make college and university more affordable," said Jesse Greener, Ontario chair of the Canadian Federation of Students.
"The anger expressed in protests across the province today (will) reflect the sense of betrayal that students and their families feel as a result of McGuinty's plan for tuition fee increases.''
Greener agreed the federal government needs to do more, and called for federal transfer payments to be restored to 1993 levels, when some of the major cuts began to be implemented.
With files from The Canadian Press