The Ontario NDP is committed to solving student issues in the province, says the president of the Queen’s NDP branch.
Billy Cheng, head of the campus group, was amongst two dozen students and local NDP staff that attended a one-hour talk on Friday given by Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath at Common Ground Coffeehouse.
“The party is more toward helping out lower income people and unions and workers … at the moment students are more concerned with education and I guess that’s [leading more] toward the Liberal party,” Cheng, ArtSci ’13 said.
“But not for long … given our recent victory [it] definitely shows that Ontarians want change and they want a premier that hears their concerns.”
Hosted by the Queen’s chapter of the NDP, Horwath emphasized what she believed to be the most pressing student issues at the talk.
“We’ve seen a post-secondary education system that is suffering from a lack of real attention … [students] go out to the workforce and guess what — there’s no jobs,” Horwath said in her opening remarks. “From my perspective, you can’t bring plans into place for people to try to address the issues that they have unless you actually take the time to engage them in a conversation and listen to what they have to say.”
Initial questions posed for the leader revolved around student unemployment and university financial policy. An element of the Liberal’s re-election platform was a 30 per cent tuition rebate for post-secondary students that came into effect last January, a policy of which Horwath has been a vocal critic.
Roughly two-thirds of students are ineligible for the conditional rebate, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, and Ontario tuition rates remain the highest in the country.
“You can’t allow tuition fees to increase year after year, even if you’re giving rebates,” Horwath said. “We need to freeze tuition.”
The discussion turned to more general economic issues and their repercussions, such as employment prospects for recent graduates.
“Students continue to stay in school because the job market just isn’t there for them,” Horwath said, stressing the need for programs that actively help graduates find jobs. “It’s got to be the priority of the provincial government to make sure those institutions are funded properly” Otherwise, Horwath said, a “cutting-edge” province like Ontario could fall behind.
“It seems like many of those programs have dried up,” she said. “It’s almost like the government has abandoned this idea that they have any responsibility whatsoever of engaging young people who are going through the education process.”
— With files from Vincent Matak
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