Federal government can start restoring fiscal balance by reinvesting in post-secondary education

Federal government can start restoring fiscal balance by reinvesting in post-secondary education

VICTORIA - As Premiers meet in Newfoundland this week in an attempt to reach a consensus on how to solve the fiscal imbalance, the federal NDP renews its pressure on the Conservative government to take action in response to the Premiers’ call for a $4.9-billion increase in transfers for post-secondary education.

“The Premiers could not have been clearer in February: the provinces desperately need core funding to be restored for post-secondary education,” stated Denise Savoie, Victoria MP and NDP Critic for Post-Secondary Education.

“It’s time for Stephen Harper to show some leadership and put something on the table.”

The deep cuts to federal transfers by the Liberal governments of the 1990s starved universities and colleges of much-needed funds, sending tuition fees and student debt soaring.

“Those massive surpluses that the Liberals and the Conservatives have blown on inequitable tax cuts were built on the backs of students,” said Savoie. “Tuition has tripled. Student debt has tripled. I have heard from countless students who are crushed under their debt load and who are taking twice as long to complete their programs, if they can afford to complete them at all.”

The federal share of post-secondary education costs has diminished from 80% in the 1980s to well under 60% today. Federal cash transfers to post-secondary education, as a percentage of GDP, have declined from 0.56% in 1983-84 to 0.19% in 2004-05.

The NDP has consistently called for the restoration of stable, long-term core funding to the provinces. The federal government should commit to a dedicated transfer of funds by means of a process that promotes transparency and accountability. In exchange, the provinces should commit to ensuring greater access to education and lower tuition fees. The only significant investment in the past decade was the $1.5 billon secured by the NDP in the 2005 budget.

Savoie urged the Council of the Federation to reaffirm its consensus of last February and re-issue its united demand that the federal government step up to the plate on post-secondary education. This is one crucial first step on the way to fixing the fiscal imbalance.

“The Premiers have agreed on this issue – the ball is in Stephen Harper’s court,” concluded Savoie.