The Federal Election: What It Means For Students

federal election

In a post on its Facebook page on September 16, the Student Representative Council (SRC) noted that the federal election campaign was getting underway in a high-profile manner with a visit to Windsor by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He was slated to headline a Liberal rally on that Monday, being staged at the St. Clair Centre for the Arts.

That, also, seemed to be a fitting occasion to remind students of the importance of voting in the October 21 national contest ...

... Despite the fact that the federal level of government does not have a great deal of direct impact upon a student’s day-to-day life.

In Canada, the administration and regulation of elementary-to-secondary and postsecondary education are solely the domain of provincial governments. You won’t find a Ministry of Education based at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Instead, only at the provincial level – at Queen’s Park in Toronto – you’ll find the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

It is the latter that, for the most part, affects the lives of postsecondary students, governing everything from student aid plans, to how colleges and universities operate, to the content of curriculum, to tuition rates.

Perhaps the most appropriate way to view the federal level’s involvement in education – especially postsecondary education – is in “trickle-down fashion”.

Because the federal government has the primary responsibility for oversight of the national economy and economic planning – and, thus, for labour-market well-being, and long-range employment trends and the needs of employers – its forecasts and recommendations are put into practice by provincial policies and programs.

The skilled trades shortage, for instance, is a nation-wide crisis that was identified by the federal level. For the past decade, it has been persistently cited by such federal ministries and departments as those of Economic Development, Employment, Workforce Development, Labour, Innovation, and Small Business. And, yes, some of those agencies have directly funded various projects to spur increased interest, involvement and enrolment in skilled trades education.

But, for the most part, this is a “trickle-down” system ... The feds identify the labour-market’s needs and shortcomings ... And the provincial governments respond by fostering apprenticeship programs, by encouraging (and funding) colleges to expand technology-and-trades enrolment, and by directing high schools to counsel young people to consider occupational opportunities in such fields.

A few other federal ministerial realms do, to a greater or lesser extent, affect the postsecondary education system. These include Science and Innovation because it funds research-and-development projects at colleges and universities, and Immigration because it governs the enrolment levels and visa status of international students.

The gist of all of this means that if you have day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts concerns as a student – like “My OSAP application got all screwed up” or “Textbooks are too pricey” – you should be shooting off nasty letters to your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) or the provincial Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Your federal MPs (Members of Parliament) – and the candidates for those posts, who are running in the October 21st national election – should be the target of students’ “big picture” concerns: “What sort of economic changes are you proposing?”, “How are you planning to create new and stable employment opportunities in my community?”, “When I graduate, will there be a job for me?”, “Are you prepared to invest in research-and-development at educational institutions?”

Moreso than the provincial level, voting in a federal election isn’t just about the short-term situation of being a student ... Rather, it is about your long-term future as a Canadian.

EXPLORE THE PLATFORMS

Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), the lobbying group representing the nation’s colleges, has created a website about the federal election and its postsecondary-related issues. It can be found at https://www.collegesinstitutes.ca/election/

In the lower left corner of that website, there are handy links to the on-line plaforms of the six federal parties: the Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois, Conservatives, Green Party and People’s Party.

AMONG VARIOUS STUDENT CAMPAIGNS ...

Also, a number of student advocacy groups are promoting involvement in the federal election.

That includes an organization named studentsvote.ca (https://studentsvote.ca/), endorsed by 35 student councils, associations and unions across Canada – including St. Clair’s Student Representative Council.

In early-September, it issued this letter to the leaders of the half-dozen federal parties:

Dear Federal Party Leaders,

Together, our organizations represent 900,000 postsecondary students across Canada. Our students are closely watching party platforms, as are the families who support them, and we are getting ready to mobilize millions of voters to go to the polls as students head back to school in September. These votes must be informed by concrete plans from each federal party to address student concerns.

This federal election, eligible voters aged 18 to 38 will be the single largest voting bloc in Canada - more than 37 percent of the electorate. On postsecondary campuses alone, there are over 2.5 million voters, with many voting for the very first time. In this upcoming federal election, young Canadians will have the voting power to determine what happens next, and we are more politically engaged than ever before. This comes at a time when we collectively face the dangerous realities of climate change. We face the urgency to act on the calls to action from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report, and countless other enquiries that call on Canada to support Indigenous communities. We feel the burden of unaffordable living conditions and the rising costs of education.

As students coming together from all across Canada, we are preparing Get Out the Vote campaigns on each of our campuses to bring young voters to the polls in record numbers. In the last federal election, in which many successful Get Out the Vote campaigns took place, there was an 18 percent increase in voter turnout among people aged 18 to 24. These voters are critical to listen to. The next four years will be decided in the next two months. Before students and their families go to the polls, it is essential that their federal party leaders tell students what their vision is for education and supporting students and their families in Canada.

We call on your leadership to address affordability, sustainable and high-quality jobs, and to support Indigenous students. You can take action by making commitments within your party’s platform this federal election to:

• Eliminate interest on federal student loans and increase federal grants for postsecondary students. Eliminating interest on federal student loans will immediately make postsecondary education more accessible for low- to middle-income students. Furthermore, all parties should commit to reallocating a large portion of the $1.5 billion saved by eliminated tuition tax credits to finance up-front grants administered by the Canada Student Loans Program. Low- to middle-income students, having less resources to inform their tax filings, are the least likely to utilize this credit immediately and, simultaneously, they take on more debt. Re-allocating tax credits will ensure students with the greatest need receive this benefit at the start of their degree or diploma when costs are the highest and can be unknown or sudden;

• Create sustainable, high-quality jobs and work-integrated learning opportunities for students. All parties should commit to investing in the creation of meaningful opportunities for students to get ahead in the workforce. This includes undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and increasing funding for the Undergraduate Student Research Awards, work-integrated learning opportunities, and high-quality job opportunities for new graduates. This will provide students with opportunities to prepare for success in the workforce and help Canada bridge the labour gap. Furthermore, when international students participate in these opportunities, they should be able to use these hours to apply for permanent residency, increasing the talent available in Canada’s economy;

• Support Indigenous Students and the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). A 22 percent university attainment gap remains between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people in Canada. As established in the TRC and under Articles 14(2) and 21(1) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), education is a powerful tool for reconciliation and to improve the economic and social conditions of Indigenous people. Of eligible Indigenous learners, only 21 percent are funded by the Post Secondary Student Support Program, widening the gap in university attainment. We call on party leaders to commit to fulfilling these duties and ending the backlog of Indigenous students waiting for funding to enter their post-secondary education.

We are student leaders. Our job is to listen to students and take action to ensure that young people, learners of all ages, and the families that support them, are able to thrive as they pursue a high-quality Canadian education. Every year, we hear about the challenges students face when starting their degrees and diplomas, such as increasing tuition or how difficult it is to start a family when they’re still paying off student loans ten years after graduation. We clearly hear their needs and urge the parties to make higher education more accessible, create opportunities to give educated and skilled graduates jobs that will fill Canada’s labour gap, and use education as a tool for reconciliation to support Indigenous communities.

When students head to the polls in October, we will be voting with these commitments, based on important student priorities, in mind. We call on you to remember the 2.5 million students, their families, and Canadian citizens who are passionate about an affordable and accessible postsecondary education system and are counting on you as their next government.