Candidates talk student issues

Provincial campaigns offer differing views on tuition and enrolment in post-secondary institutions

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Freezing university tuition is a priority for NDP candidate Mary Rita Holland.
Freezing university tuition is a priority for NDP candidate Mary Rita Holland.
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Rodger James said the PC Party Changebook is a strong point in their campaign.
Rodger James said the PC Party Changebook is a strong point in their campaign.
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Robert Kiley is a ConEd student at Queen’s.
Robert Kiley is a ConEd student at Queen’s.
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John Gerretsen has represented Kingston and the Islands for 12 years.
John Gerretsen has represented Kingston and the Islands for 12 years.
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John Gerretsen, Liberal Party

Kingston and the Islands’ 12-year incumbent John Gerretsen said he’s never seen himself as a full-time politician.

“I know what it’s like to earn a living,” Gerretsen, ArtSci ’64, said.

He said the Liberals see current tuition fees as too high.

Their platform includes a yearly tuition grant of $1,600 for university students and $730 for college students to help students cope with the rising costs.

This return won’t apply to graduate or professional students as well as undergraduates with a family income over $160,000.

“If you make a certain amount of money, you shouldn’t benefit from this,” Gerretsen said.

The Liberals opened up 200,000 spots for students heading to university, college or trade work in Ontario over the past eight years.

According to their platform the Liberals are promising to create 60,000 more spaces if re-elected.

Gerretsen said larger class sizes may be a necessary step toward increased enrolment.

“Do we really want to limit class sizes and thereby limit the number of qualified students that go to university?” he said. “I’m not in favour of that.”

In the past eight years, the Ontario government spending on post-secondary education has averaged $6 billion per year.

“I always got an impression that universities had it pretty good,” Gerretsen said.

The Ontario government can’t dictate how university funding is spent.

“Internal issues have to be worked out by the university,” he said. “We don’t run the university’s administration.”

In 2005, Gerretsen passed a bill to give the provincial auditor jurisdiction over universities.

In addition to new medical schools across the province, Gerretsen said he wants to see more satellite campuses for students from less-populated municipalities in Northern Ontario.

Gerretsen said student voters should look beyond university issues and consider long-term provincial issues like the health care system.

Ontario is currently running a $14-billion deficit.

“We’re running a deficit and it has to be paid for,” he said. “If I were a young person I’d be very concerned about the province’s growing debt.”

Mary Rita Holland, New Democratic Party

NDP candidate Mary Rita Holland has $60,000 of student debt.

“Students going to university are paying a lot for education that is being diluted by large class sizes,” the Queen’s PhD candidate said. “And the government is advocating a greater increase in enrolment.”

Ontario universities have the highest tuition fees of any province. Holland said an Ontario NDP platform promise for a tuition freeze will help reduce the student debt burden.

“It’s irresponsible to allow the universities to access more and more funding through student fees,” she said.

Holland also cited Queen’s ongoing building projects as a detriment to quality education.

“That money should go into new hires, more professors and better teaching,” she said.

Bill 183, brought to parliament by NDP representative Rosario Marchese, is the answer to administrative accountability, Holland said. The bill extends the role of ombudsman to include more public institutions, including universities.

“The administration at Queen’s and other universities currently has the ability to change the direction of the university according to whatever they want to see,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to allow them to continue to make these decisions.”

Holland said she’d like to see privately-funded research axed on university campuses.

“When you have a business investing in research clearly they want to see results,” she said, adding that the compromise to academic integrity outweighs the benefit associated with private research funding.

The NDP is campaigning to make student loans interest-free.

Holland said money for initiatives aimed at student debt reduction will come from getting rid of corporate tax cuts in Ontario.

“We believe we have choices as a government and we can invest in public services,” she said.

Rodger James, Progressive Conservative Party

Rodger James said his experience as a local small business owner makes him a strong contender in the provincial race.

“I’m a business man and you can’t run a business or a province with money problems,” the PC said.

On issues like tuition and enrolment in Ontario universities, James deferred to the PC Changebook — a document compiled by leader Tim Hudak, laying out the party’s platform using constituent recommendations.

James said he wasn’t sure if anything in the PC platform specifically mentioned a plan for increasing or decreasing tuition in Ontario.

“I would love to be able to lower them,” he said. “But I can’t speak on exactly how that would be done.

“We would reduce it to the maximum degree.”

The Changebook calls for the addition of 60,000 spots for undergraduate students in Ontario post-secondary institutions.

“If we need more teachers to have smaller classes then we’ll look into it,” James said.

The PC campaign also plans to transfer the current $30-million allocation for international student scholarships to Ontario student grants.

“We want to support Ontario students as opposed to others,” James said. “We need to support ourselves first.”

During Monday’s all-candidates debate in Wallace Hall, NDP candidate Mary Rita Holland spoke about her $60,000 student debt.

“That was concerning,” James said, adding that many of his business clients carry an alarming amount of student debt as well.

He said he hopes students will exercise their right to vote in the upcoming election.

“We need post-secondary education,” he said. “There’s no question.”

Robert Kiley, Green Party

Robert Kiley is balancing life as a ConEd student with his candidacy for Green Party MPP.

He said if elected, the Green Party wants to implement a year-long freeze on Ontario tuition fees.

After the freeze, Kiley said the Greens will increase tuition by the rate of inflation in 2013 and 2014, with hopes of balancing Ontario’s budget the following year.

“Once the budget is balanced, we can have a discussion about keeping a cap or dropping them,” he said.

Kiley said a province-wide university endowment fund could provide periodical donations to support schools.

The fund would funnel private donations into accounts for universities.

The suggested donation would be $5,000 and anyone looking to donate could specify the university that would benefit from their money.

Each donor would receive a break on taxable income.

“I think that it makes donation more accessible,” he said. “Endowments have generally been large financial contributions which limits the number of people who can give.

“There are more people who can give a few thousand dollars each year at retirement.”

Kiley also proposed the addition of 5,000 spots for students at Queen’s, St. Lawrence College and Royal Military College.

He said increased summer school opportunities could work to reduce the burden of additional students.

Kiley said increasing post-secondary enrolment will reduce Ontario poverty rates.

“The higher quality of education and more education one has the less likely they will be living in poverty.”

Increased enrolment rates will require more support staff in post-secondary institutions, Kiley said.

Kiley said the Greens’ shortcomings in recent elections shouldn’t be a deterrent for voters.

“I know it’s discouraging to think that you might not have your voice heard,” he said.

“I know we don’t have a great record as far as representation by population goes, but I think that working within the system despite its flaws is the way that we can affect change.”

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