Students demand action on student debt and youth unemployment

| November 20, 2014
Photo: Steven Lee

Students are taking to the Hill this week asking politicians to put youth issues in their platforms for the 2015 elections. 

They say that if spent properly, $2.84 billion would solve Canada's post-secondary funding problem.

Forty representatives from the Canadian Students' Federation (CFS) have scheduled meetings with more than 120 MPs and Senators to demand action on student issues including debt levels, funding for post-secondary institutions and youth unemployment. 

The CFS, which represents over 500,000 students at 75 institutions across Canada, has recently launched its federal election campaign, itsnosecret.ca to draw attention to the pressing youth issues in this upcoming election. 

The students have been speaking to politicians about five policy issues that they hope will address youth unemployment, access to post-secondary education and student debt:   

1. Reduce student debt by reallocating money currently invested in education-related tax credits and saving schemes into expanded National Student Grant program. 

2. Eliminate the two per cent funding increase cap on Aboriginal education program spending to insure that every eligible aboriginal student can get the funding that they need to go to college or university. 

3. Develop a Post-Secondary Education Act that would include dedicated regional transfer payments as part of a comprehensive national strategy for the delivery for post-secondary education. 

4. Remove targeted research funding earmarks within the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and increase the number of Canada Graduate Scholarships to be consistent with average program growth.

5. Double the annual investment in the Youth Employment Strategy to ensure program effectiveness and develop a strategy to tackle unpaid internships and increase employment and training opportunities for Canada's youth. 

The CFS says that MPs and Senators have been responsive on this last point, but that they fail to see the urgency required in most of the issues being presented during lobby week. 

"One of the big components of the campaign is shining a light on issues that matter to students," said CFS President Jessica McCormick, "we need to demonstrate that these aren't just student issues, access to education is an economic issue, it's a societal issue and it impacts everyone."

Despite historic highs in youth unemployment and student debt, only 38 per cent of students voted in the last federal election. CFS campaign aims to increase youth voter turnout, but in order to do so, McCormick says, politicians need to start addressing the issues that most affect students and youth. 

"It's incumbent upon politicians to actually speak about our issues," says McCormick. She describes the lobby week as part of a reconnaissance mission that will help the CFS during their election mobilizing campaign. 

"These meetings will inform our strategy and we are going to bring it back to students so that when they are looking at the candidates in their riding, they know where they stand on access to education and student debt, and they can make a more informed decisions when it comes time to vote," said McCormick. 

Students participating in the CFS Lobby Week have reported that they are disappointed with the level of commitment they have been receiving from MPs.

"MPs and Senators almost exclusively all agree that we need to do something to improve the Postsecondary education system, but we haven't heard any real firm commitments from MPs or any of the Parties that demonstrates that they are willing to take these issues seriously ahead of the next federal election," said McCormick, who also issued a warning to politicians. 

"Given the fact that we are organizing this campaign to increase student and youth voter turnout, I think [politicians] do need take us seriously," said McCormick, "if students do get to the polls in 2015 we can have a significant impact on the outcome of the election." 

Ella Bedard is rabble's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.

Photo: Steven Lee

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