Doubt creeps in on Tory pledge to eliminate student loans

James McLeod
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Minister declines interview, says promise ‘subject to financial considerations’

— File photo

Close to halfway through the Dunderdale government’s mandate, hope is fading on one of its big-ticket 2011 campaign promises: get rid of student loans.

The PC Party Blue Book said that if it was re-elected, Dunderdale’s government would “eliminate the provincial student loan over four years, and replace it with an up-front, needs-based grant.”


The promise was made during the election campaign, at a time when the provincial government was running a budget surplus and had plenty of cash in the bank. But all of the PC party’s election promises came with a caveat: they would only be implemented if the provincial government could afford it.

This spring, Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy said the government was forecasting $1.6-billion in deficits for this year and next year, and to combat that, the government had to lay off close to 1,000 civil servants.

In his spring budget Kennedy slashed programs and made cuts across the board. A review of post-secondary education is expected to result in further cuts to Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic next year.

Michael Walsh, provincial representative for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), said the current fiscal climate is worrying, but the government hasn’t said anything to him to indicate that it plans on breaking the promise.

“We certainly haven’t heard that there’s any new plan outside of the plan that they promised during the election in 2011,” he said.

The CFS has been hugely supportive of the government’s moves to maintain a freeze on tuition fees over the past decade and introduce grants for students.

“The government has done tremendous work in creating a system of post-secondary education that’s the envy of people across the country. They’ve created a system that’s actually working,” Walsh said. “I certainly don’t feel that this is the time to go back on any of that fantastic work that’s been done.”

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons is a bit more skeptical.

“I’m hoping they live up to the big talk,” Parsons said. “But based on everything we’ve seen, it’s really hard to believe that it’s going to happen any time, and it’ll probably just go back into their next campaign booklet.”

Kevin O’Brien, acting minister of Advanced Education and Skills, would not do an interview with The Telegram for this story. John Tompkins, director of communications for Advanced Education and Skills said he was “not available” to speak, but he emailed a statement to The Telegram on O’Brien’s behalf.

“As stated in the 2011 Policy Blue Book, the Provincial Government remains committed to the elimination of provincial student loans and replacing them with up-front needs-based grants,” the emailed statement said.

“This commitment remains subject to financial considerations, which will occur in consultation with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the pre-Budget process.”

New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby said if the government feels like it can’t afford to replace the student loans with grants, that’s because of Tory fiscal mismanagement.

“They have made choices as a government, and the population will have to live with them until someone else has the opportunity to govern the province,” he said. “What’s been enacted from their platform? Bill 29, and then not a whole lot else. I mean, pilot projects here and there for some of the more substantive parts of their platform, but not a lot has been done, so I’m not really surprised.”

The PC party platform also promised government initiatives that will save the government money in the long run would be enacted early on, in order to maximize the benefits.

Parsons said that definitely applies to eliminating student loans, because it gets more people educated and more young people into the workforce.

“If we have more people availing of education and making it more accessible, then there’s got to be positives down the road when it comes to people getting out into the workforce,” he said.

“I’d like to think that the cost would be, I guess, positively counteracted by the impacts on the other end.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, PC Party Blue Book, Canadian Federation of Students

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Recent comments

  • James
    July 11, 2013 - 06:36

    Having gone through 9 years at MUN and 50k in student loans I can not support a grant system, which might be a shocker to most. The fear of massive students loans for the education that "I" wanted was enough to make we work hard, get MUCEP jobs every term, work every weekend at a part time job, and put myself through 4 semesters entirely. I ended up working in the US to help pay off my student loan faster...I did it in 7 years, and I could have done it in 5 if i really wanted to. I received no help other then student loans from the government. What I did see in my time at MUN were a significant amount of splurging on wants, not needs, from student clothes...downtown activities. I think we all take things more seriously if we are financially invested in them....but having a free ride with a grant system? Not something I would support. You want to make the big bucks....earn it...don't expect it.

  • Student
    July 07, 2013 - 19:10

    Already having a student loan from 4 years of University I know the time it takes to pay the debt off, but it was an education I wanted and worked for and with the assistance of a student loan was able to pay for. I can't say I agree that student loans should be eliminated and education made free, when having to pay back a student loan a person takes their education seriously and works hard as to not throw away their own money. Why give 17 and 18 year olds taxpayers money so that they can MAYBE obtain an education? Support should continue, but not be given the chance to be abused, wouldn't it be better to offer grants once the education was completed, or at the end of a successful term, or even fight to eliminate interest on the loans?

  • gord
    July 05, 2013 - 13:59

    This can't help the province unless these students sign contracts to work here for a set term. Otherwise free education and off to bigger places with us holding the debt.

  • Kilgore Trout
    July 05, 2013 - 10:14

    Those making comments stating that the public funds shouldn't help pay for post secondary education are terribly misguided. Increased education levels means more people working in higher income jobs, increasing tax revenue to help pay for better roads, healthcare etc (the stuff everyone always complains is inadequate) and decreasing reliance on social services. Plus, less student loan debt means more people have more money to spend and pump into the economy. The public benefits enormously from subsidizing post secondary education.

  • Sasker
    July 05, 2013 - 08:59

    There is no respect for things that are not earned, wouldn't be long before the grants would be abused. Can Newfoundland afford to educate employees for the rest of Canada--that's where lots will be going

  • darren
    July 05, 2013 - 08:31

    FIL-E....if you think the PC's are low now, wait until they start hard-balling the unions including NAPE, CUPE, Nurses and Teachers. Its going to happen big time this fall and I know that just about every family in this province has someone in one of those unions.

  • dan
    July 05, 2013 - 08:30

    Ah yes Fred why should you support the future, why should you support those that will support YOU in your old age! Tuition for NL born students should be FREE!

  • Sean Flynn
    July 05, 2013 - 08:17

    What about the ones who have already left school and have huge debts to pay? Grants stopped coming in the mid nineties, now they're coming back. If you went to school in the middle, tough luck, thems the breaks. Work nights at Macdonalds to pay it off.

  • Fil-E
    July 05, 2013 - 07:34

    Only halfway through their mandate and the bad news doesn't stop. How much damage will be done before we get to oust Stunderdale and crew in 2015? Dunderdale and her friends will go down in history as the WORST GOVERNMENT EVER!

  • Fred Penner
    July 05, 2013 - 06:33

    I do not agree that I should have to pay for your education.

    • Taxpayer
      July 05, 2013 - 08:33

      I agree. From kindergarten to post-grad sutdies, the cost of all education should be borne by parents and students alone as they are the only ones who benefit from their education.

    • Mister Thump
      July 05, 2013 - 12:12

      It's the oil, stupid.

    • joe
      July 05, 2013 - 12:17

      I agree with Michael. As with the environmental review, there should be money put aside to do road repair knowing this is going to be an issue. My lord it seems Ms. michael and Danny Dumaresque are the only people with a finger on the pulse of Newfoundland.