After meeting with MPs and Senators from all parties and from all regions in Canada, #LobbyWeek19 has come to a successful end! From Feb. 19 to 22, student leaders from colleges and universities across the country descended on Parliament Hill to discuss their demands with lawmakers on behalf of the 500,000 members of the Canadian Federation of Students.
This year’s lobby week happened at an opportune time, as students across the country are gearing up for the fall federal election and looking to parties for bold action on the growing student debt crisis and underfunding for post-secondary education. With youth forming the largest segment of eligible voters in 2019, scrutiny will, and should, be paid to the promises made by the Liberal government five years ago.
Student leaders presented these three recommendations for accessible education and tackling student debt to government:
1. Eliminate tuition fees for all students and restore core federal funding for post-secondary education.
Since the federal government instituted massive cuts to the post-secondary education sector in 1996, tuition fees have been skyrocketing all across Canada. This issue is compounded for international students who are being used to finance underfunded institutions by paying 3 to 4 times more for the same education as their Canadian counterparts. Students are increasingly forced to incur life-impacting student debt through public and private loans to finance their education. Total public student debt in Canada reached $36 billion in 2016. The amount owed to the Canada Student Loan Program alone is estimated to be $18 billion and increasing by nearly $1 million every day. Among other demands to ensure that public education is accessible to all students in Canada, representatives asked policymakers to restore federal transfers to provinces and territories for post-secondary education and eliminate interest rates on direct loans through the CSLP.
2. Honour Canada’s treaty commitments on post-secondary education for Indigenous peoples.
Post-secondary education is a right for Indigenous people. While Indigenous youth are the fastest growing demographic in Canada, funding for their post-secondary education remains stagnant. In 2012, it was estimated that 10,000 Indigenous learners were waiting for funding for their studies through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP). Further to funding, the preservation of Indigenous culture, history and languages are fundamental to reconciliation. Through its Reconciliaction campaign, the CFS has been advocating for universities and colleges across Canada to include Indigenous history, culture and languages in course offerings and the syllabus. During Lobby Week 2019, representatives demanded that the federal government lift the current 2% funding cap on the PSSSP and address the existing backlog of Indigenous learners, as well as include the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students in the implementation process for a National First Nations, Métis and Inuits Languages Act.
3. Increase funding for graduate students and support fair dealing in the Copyright Act.
In order for Canada to remain economically competitive at a global level, it must secure its status as a centre for research and innovation. Investment in graduate studies provides the foundation for longterm innovation and trains the highly skilled workers and researchers needed to respond to the economic and social challenges that Canada faces now and will face in the future. The CFS recommends increasing the Canada Student Grants Program and expanding the eligibility to include graduate students. In addition, as the federal government has began reviewing the Copyright Act, graduate students are asking to maintain the current fair dealing framework, which ensures that students and faculty have fair access to learning materials for education and research purposes. Graduate students would also like to see provisions added in the Copyright Act recognizing Indigenous communities’ self-determined rules for maintaining, disseminating and compensating Indigenous knowledge and heritage.
MPs and Senators were receptive to the demands made and many pledged to publicly show their support. Students were happy to hear that some parties are also considering including free post-secondary education in their electoral platforms for 2019.
As the Canadian Federation of Students continues to advocate for universal access to high-quality post-secondary education across the country, we are looking to the 2019 federal election and all political parties to include bold measures to address the student debt crisis and increasing tuition fees in their political platforms. For more information on the Canadian Federation of Students’ demands to federal government, please read our 2019 lobby document, “Time to Be Bold. Education for All.”.