Masse on Bill C-253 - Post-Secondary Education

39:2 Hansard - 26 (2007/11/28)

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this issue and support my colleague from Pickering—Scarborough East with whom I have served on the industry committee for a number of years. I applaud him for this bill. I personally support the bill.

It does not completely address the current post-secondary education affordability situation for our youth, but it is one tool that could be effective in allowing more contributions and better planning for families. That is important.

In the riding of Windsor West we have the St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology which has been very successful, not only in terms of training young people, but also in making sure they have the right tools to succeed in employment. We also have the University of Windsor which is well known for its law programs, as well as other different types of institutions which have been successful in the past years. However, successive governments have attacked young people far too much by downloading the cost of education onto the backs of young people. The recent budget was another example of that.

Until there is a real fix, Bill C-253 would at least provide an opportunity for people to plan to save in order to gain access to education. The New Democratic Party has been calling for an overhaul of the education system. That is important. This country has lagged behind the developed world and other G-8 nations in providing affordable education. In fact it is one of the biggest scandals that has happened.

Our youth are being fettered by the tax cuts and benefits that have been given to other people. Training has been put entirely on the backs of our youth. There are record tax cuts for the oil and gas industry and the banks. At the same time students are expected to pick up the full cost to get their training and degrees, which do not pay a wage at the end of the day and they have to pay off their loans. That is unacceptable.

Government members should be embarrassed and ashamed for their obstruction attempts on this bill. It has gone through several machinations at committee. I was a participant at one of those committee meetings and I saw that the government members were trying to do anything they could to unplug any type of benefit.

It is important to note that we are passing on a legacy of debt and a problem that relates to our overall productivity in our society. Students come out of university and college having worked hard, having done everything they could to get the grades necessary to be competitive. They made a choice about which institution they wanted to go to. They made a financial commitment and they come out of the post-secondary institution literally with mortgages that they have to pay off. It is unacceptable. On top of that, the current government and the past one let the creditors become predators. Students are paying high interest rates. It is unacceptable.

We can look toward other nations that have increased their productivity by lowering the cost of post-secondary education. That is one of the most effective things we could do to make sure we have a trained society.

We hear all the rhetoric from the current government and the previous government about a new emerging economy but they will not do anything to improve the accessibility to the necessary training. We need to help put the skills into the hands of our young citizens. They are the future providers of our country which continues to need the development to sustain our quality of life.

This bill is an opportunity to do something. It is important to note that besides the government's trying to stop this bill from going forward, the Conservatives were the ones who stole half a billion dollars from students in the student debt program which we negotiated with the Liberals in a former deal, because the Liberals never passed the legislation and procedures to get the half a billion dollars to the students. The Conservatives took that debt money, and they still owe $500 million to students across this country to lower their debt. The Conservatives took that from them.

Not only have the Conservatives not provided the proper programs or structure related to having affordable education and the payment of it after that, they actually took money away from students. They took it away from them and put it toward other priorities such as corporate tax cuts, or whatever those priorities might be, and at the same time we are witnessing our young people treading water in our education system.

What does it mean? From experience, I remember the first interview I had when I was first elected in 2002. I was asked what I would do with all the money I would be making as an MP. I said that the first thing my wife and I would do is pay off our student loans, and that is what happened. My wife and I had worked every single year. I had actually worked since age 9. We worked all the way through university. My wife has a couple of post-secondary degrees. However, we still had to borrow some money to get by and to afford our education.

That is the normal experience and that is what is happening right now. Students are misunderstood and the government does not even get it. Those people who actually have to pay for their education are working. They are working one and two jobs. They work not just during the summer, but during the year. They are learning and providing for themselves, and trying to reduce their debt burden for the future.

The Conservatives have instituted and helped provide the lightest coverage of the last 10 years of a system that has downloaded onto the backs of young people an awful burden with significant social consequences. As a result people come out of school with a larger debt load. It is okay for students to have to borrow, but not the government. They actually have to pay the interest on their debt.

People in my riding and across the country with this debt burden are paying the interest on their loans, which is being compounded. At the same time, they cannot buy a home. They cannot buy a new car. They cannot start the lifestyle they want at this point in time because they are paying off that debt. It is unnecessary.

We have a challenge in this day and age. There has been a lot of debate in the House of Commons over the last couple of years about pensions. I know right now that the people I serve in my community have a lot harder time getting a job with a pension.

When individuals begin their education, they have to go to school longer to get higher qualifications, which not only takes a longer period of time, but costs more money. These people are finishing later in life. They are delaying starting a family. They are delaying purchasing their first home and so forth, and they do not have the money to invest in their own retirement because they are paying off all that debt. The government is passing on that burden to them and it is doing it with no sense of accountability. That bothers me.

Here in this bill there is a modest attempt to deal with the situation, to provide some tools to those who can actually afford it and who will be successful for themselves and their families. That is why it should be supported.

I cannot understand for the life of me why the government does not understand that right now. It does not understand the value of education. It does not understand the value of having people come through an educational stream and not having a huge debt burden after that.

In the current economic situation, there is a good chance people will require more training. More people now go back to school for training, whether it be college or university, after they have a degree than ever before. They are picking up new skills. They are picking up new types of knowledge. That is important for our productivity and how we will be measured against our competitors across the globe.

We should be encouraging that. An educated civil society that is able to respond to the new economic challenges is an important feature, but it has to be coupled with being affordable to those individuals.

Instead, we have other priorities. Earlier this evening, the Conservatives talked about wanting to create a new bureaucracy for public-private partnerships. They will shovel $25 million into a new bureaucracy so they can sell off Canada as it currently exists, and future projects. It is done straight from ideology. They could reverse those resources and put them toward education. They could put them toward a whole series of other things. They are more concerned with those things. and that is troubling.

When we look at the OECD nations and what they are doing, they are being very successful at making sure that students and people in their society are receiving good training and good skills. They are well educated and they are productive. It is not just when they are young, but they can return to those institutions like mine, St. Clair College and the University of Windsor, and pick up additional competitive skills and get back out into the labour force and make Canada successful.

Why the government does not understand that it is a value-added commodity for our productivity that will allow us to compete is beyond me. The Conservatives would rather put the burden on the shoulders of a few people and expect them to get by. That is unacceptable.

I would encourage members to support the bill because once again, it is at least something to fight back with on this issue. Once again, we cannot allow the government to continually download this burden of debt on to individuals and their communities.

It is a cycle of failure to allow post-secondary education costs to continually escalate through the ceiling and, at the same time, not provide students with the resources to be successful.