May 18, 2017

CPC Leadership Candidates Answer our questionnaire on student issues

The Conservative Party of Canada will elect a new leader on May 27, 2017 and as of today there are 13 leadership candidates in the race. The CFS asked each candidate to answer questions on issues affecting students in post-secondary education in Canada such as tuition fees, gender-based violence and student debt. Chris Alexander and Deepak Obhrai were the only two candidates who answered the questions and you can read their responses below.

Chris Alexander

Funding for Post-Secondary Education

  1. Do you support a dedicated transfer payment to the provinces for post- secondary education? If so, at what level of funding?

I believe that it is the obligation of the Government of Canada to encourage an equal and adequate development of post-secondary education and research in all regions of the country by assisting the provinces in meeting the costs.

I support a National Post-Secondary Education Fund that provides sufficient, fair and continuing federal funding to provinces to support quality post-secondary education. These transfers should be adjusted to match the GDP per capita of each province, and should only be allocated to institutions that meet certain core principles. These principles include operation on a not-for-profit basis; protection of academic freedom of inquiry and speech; a comprehensive range of programs offered; and accessibility for all qualified people.

I would also look favourably upon the establishment of an advisory council comprised of broad representation (from both government and academic community) to assess the funding, its extent, and its effectiveness.

These ideas are already supported by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

International Students

  1. How will you address the tuition fee disparities between domestic and international students?

I do not necessarily see this as an issue that requires the involvement of a Party leader or Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s role should first and foremost be to address the needs of Canadians– that is, fair and affordable access to high quality education for Canadian students.

Otherwise, the tuition fee disparity should be determined by universities themselves. While Canadian universities should continue to attract talent from abroad, the focus of the federal government should be to ensure affordable Canadian access first.

Elimination of Tuition Fees

  1. Do you support the elimination of tuition fees to ensure low up-front cost (and less student debt) for those pursuing post-secondary education?

In an ideal world, no Canadians would have to pay for education. But the reality is that it is necessary to cover the costs of a first-class education. While there must be some price for tuition, there must continue to be an expanse of programs available for less fortunate families or those of limited means and diverse backgrounds. We must ensure that all Canadians are given a fair chance to get a great education- without running up debts that they will struggle to repay. I believe that financial aid programs, bursaries, scholarships and other forms of aid should be made more comprehensive, and that they should continue to be strengthened. I especially support merit-based awards and aid for students who may struggle with tuition costs. But this again is largely a provincial matter.

Gender-Based Violence

  1. What measures would you support to address sexual and gender-based violence on college and university campuses?

As a father of two daughters, both of whom may one day learn at our universities or colleges, these issues– which I see as basic human rights issues– are of grave concern. Unfortunately, sexual and gender-based violence are both very real problems on our campuses today.

I personally would support and encourage increased efforts to help campuses build partnerships to develop and adopt protocols and policies that can treat various forms of GBV more effectively, including by punishing the offenders more seriously. Survivor safety and offender accountability are critical to the healing process, and to ensuring justice on campuses. Our education institutions should also look to build and implement more comprehensive, contemporary, modern, and culturally relevant prevention techniques.

I also believe that the most effective approaches to tackling this are survivor-centred.

However, it is not the role of the Party leader, nor of the Prime Minister, to manage campuses and make decisions on these issues. As Prime Minister, I would make financial support available through the Department of Justice to support various campus initiatives that meet certain criteria. This money could go toward building coordinated community response systems, programs, policies, and practices for effective prevention and intervention strategies that support a safe and healthy educational environment for students. But the PM’s job is to first and foremost provide moral leadership; to set the tone for what is acceptable, and for what is not.

Student debt and student financial assistance

  1. What will you do to address the crisis of student debt ($28 billion as of 2012), and improve federal student financial assistance?

Student debt is a major problem facing Canadian students. Not only does it take a heavy financial toll on students, but it also leads to growing levels of stress, anxiety, depression, poor health, and ultimately poorer academic performance. Still today in Canada, there is a large disparity between rates of post-secondary education among those of a low-income background, and those of a high-income one.

We need to precisely determine the amounts owed by students across the country, and more thoroughly examine the nature of this problem. This should include both private and public funding owed by students. There also should be a national organization or task force mandated with targeting issues of student debt… and maybe this organization could also work to develop a more graduated system of testing the means of students to pay their debts back.

In particular, the most needy and those of lower-income backgrounds should have more grants and bursaries available. People with bright minds who may not necessarily come from wealthy backgrounds must still be allowed the same opportunities as their fellow citizens.

Federal Post-Secondary Act

  1. Do you support the establishment of a Post-Secondary Education Act that would establish federal standards as a prerequisite for federal funding?

Yes, but I would stress that the standards be determined not only by experts from the government, but also from the private sector and academia. And they would be loose standards- I believe schools and provinces should have a lot of room to manouever.

Funding for Indigenous Post-Secondary Students

  1. What will you do to ensure all Indigenous students can access post- secondary education? In particular, would you support expanded eligibility to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program for Métis learners?

Yes, I believe Indigenous and Métis post-secondary education is critical to our country’s future prosperity, success and unity. Thanks to a decision by the Liberal government in 1996, a two percent cap exists on “Indigenous and Northern Affairs,” which often de facto leads to a blow to education funding. Despite common belief to the contrary, many First Nations Canadians do not get free post-secondary tuition, often due to demand exceeding supply, or due to First Nation students not being officially recognized as “status Indians.” If students are lucky enough to get funding from the limited pools of money that the Bands are allocated, it is often not enough, or comes with difficult and restrictive conditions.

See my policies on First Nations and Métis Canadians here.

Public Funding for Research and Graduate Students

  1. What role do you think the federal government should play in funding graduate student research in all disciplines? Do you support the eligibility of international graduate students for funding through the tri-council agencies? Do you support graduate students being given access to the Canada Student Grants under the Canada Student Loans Program?

I believe that a combination of experts, from the provincial/federal governments, academia and the private sector should help determine where funding for research should go. While I would support funding, it should not be only the government’s role to choose which project merits the most recent funds.

That said, Canada should particularly emphasize funding that goes toward R&D, both private and public. Universities are a great place in which to develop this. Focus should also go toward digital and cyber careers and innovation, some of which I have outlined in my policy, here.

Youth Employment and Underemployment

  1. What will you do to address high youth unemployment and underemployment among young workers to ensure access to jobs in a variety of fields? What steps will you take to ensure employers do not replace entry-level positions and on-the-job training opportunities with unpaid internships?

My campaign is for a New Canada; for a Canada that embraces the future and its realities.

Crucial to the future of this New Canada of the 21st century is innovation, specifically in a digital economy, as I have discussed in my policy here. We need to promote certain progressive and modern programs and careers, many of which still demand a vast diversity of backgrounds and academic skills. If we can build on strong technology, cyber security and digital potentials, we can boost Canadian start ups and see them thrive. I have published a policy on that here.

By helping education prepare students that businesses need, businesses will pay for students who they need.

Executive Compensation on Campus

  1. Would you support a senior executive salary pay cap in the post- secondary sector?

No.

Deepak Obhrai

Post Secondary Education is a top priority to me. An educated work force is our strength for a robust economy and withstands global competition.

Funding for Post-Secondary Education
1. Do you support a dedicated transfer payment to the provinces for post- secondary education?

No. I don’t believe in dedicated transfer payments. Transfers should be based on needs. Needs can increase or decrease but as I said, it is a top priority.

International Students
2. How will you address the tuition fee disparities between domestic and international students?

I don’t agree that Canadian tax payers should subsidize international students.

Elimination of Tuition Fees
3. Do you support the elimination of tuition fees to ensure low up-front cost (and less student debt) for those pursuing post-secondary education?

No. I don’t believe in anything free, it is subject to abuse. This is responsibility to be shared by all. All three of my children have student loans.

Gender-Based Violence
4. What measures would you support o address sexual and gender-based violence on college and university campuses?

Sexual and gender based violence is not acceptable. There should be zero based tolerance. I would encourage universities and colleges to have a robust policy as well as a publicity campaign.

Student debt and student financial assistance
5. What will you do to address the crisis of student debt ($28 billion as of 2012), and improve federal student financial assistance?

Access to education is a paramount priority not just for me but for any society, therefore it is important to address the crisis of student loans. However it must be done in a way that we do not entirely take away personal responsibility and place the financial burden entirely on taxpayers. To address this issue we must be able to stimulate the economy to help provide jobs so that students are able to be employed to pay off their loans.

Working with Lending institutions during a downturn in the economy is a must to ensure that the Student Repayment Program is achievable.

Federal Post-Secondary Act
6. Do you support the establishment of a Post-Secondary Education Act that would establish federal standards as a prerequisite for federal funding?

I agree to federal standards. One of my platforms is to have standard qualifications across the country where all professors are certified and can work across our country.

Funding for Indigenous Post-Secondary Students
7. What will you do to ensure all Indigenous students can access post- secondary education?

I believe ALL Canadians, Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal should have equal opportunity for post secondary education. Post Secondary Education is a top priority to me. An educated work force is our strength for a robust economy and withstands global competition.

Public Funding for Research and Graduate Students
8. What role do you think the federal government should play in funding graduate student research in all disciplines?

There should be good funding for research. Canada is a leading contributor in the world of Science, Innovation and Technology. We must support the research community in Canada and that can be achieved through Public and Private partnerships and creative solutions.

Youth Employment and Underemployment
9. What will you do to address high youth unemployment and underemployment among young workers to ensure access to jobs in a variety of fields?

Our financial institutions are a hindrance for students who are starting their own businesses. The mandate of institutions need to changed to encourage graduates to start their business. We are finding that the policies of these institutions are a hindrance. BDC, Grain Commission   etc., either eliminate them or change their mandate.