Minister matters

Ministers John Baird, Brad Duguid, John Gerretsen and John Milloy visit Queen’s this week

Minister of Consumer Affairs John Gerretsen spoke at en event called ‘Be Heard’ organized by the Ontario Young Liberals on Jan. 17.
Minister of Consumer Affairs John Gerretsen spoke at en event called ‘Be Heard’ organized by the Ontario Young Liberals on Jan. 17.
John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities says qualified students should never be denied access due to funding.
John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities says qualified students should never be denied access due to funding.

This week three provincial ministers visited Queen’s to talk about issues facing students and Ontarians in general.

Minister of Consumer Affairs John Gerretsen was formerly the minister of the environment. He came to Queen’s to speak about climate change at an Ontario Young Liberals event called ‘Be Heard.’

Gerretsen, who was first elected as the MPP for Kingston and the Islands in 1995, said coming to Queen’s allows students to become more aware of these issues, so they can get involved in the next provincial election.

The election is slated for Oct. 6, 2011, and according to Gerretsen, climate change will be a hot topic. “With coal gone, we need [energy] replaced by renewables and by conservation—making our buildings more energy efficient,” he said, adding that in addition to looking for new solutions, his party believes in reducing carbon emissions though measures like the cap-and-trade system.

The cap-and-trade system lowers the amount businesses can emit annually by implementing a yearly cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The companies that are doing better can trade the surplus to other companies and there is a dollar value to that.

Brad Duguid, minister of energy and infrastructure, also spoke at the event held Monday in the McLaughlin rough in the JDUC.

He said Ontario has significantly reduced its emissions over the last few years, but that the province needs to find a dependable source of renewable energy in the near future because coal will soon disappear in the province.

“By 2014 we will be out of coal [all] together in Ontario,” he said.

University students can make an impact by getting involved and participating in political activities to broaden their understanding of current issues.

But, according to Duguid, university students are not the only people he speaks to.

“I often [speak to] high school students, even grade five, which is when they start learning about the government. I enjoy doing sessions with students,” he said.

Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy visited Queen’s yesterday and spoke to Principal Woolf and students in Richardson Hall about post-secondary education reforms.

Milloy, said the McGuinty government has made several changes to Ontario’s Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to increase access to post-secondary institutions.

“The government used to make OSAP applications available in May, which makes no sense because it frustrates students and provides them with uncertainty,” he said. “Students wouldn’t be able to access applications for months after they received acceptance and can’t do planning for their future.”

OSAP applications are now available three months earlier and can be accessed online.

“Qualified students should never be denied access due to funding. These steps are small but removing barriers can help people navigate through the system,” he said.

Other changes to OSAP allow students to graduate with less debt by providing a no-interest, no-payment period on student loans for six months after graduation.

“Now students can start paying once they have their feet back on the ground,” Milloy said, adding that affordability is a priority for both students and the government.

Milloy, who has visited every post-secondary institution in Ontario, said meeting with students and student leaders is routine but important.

“I constantly meet with OUSA [Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance] and attend their conventions and conferences,” he said.

Significant investments have also been made in post-secondary institutions in terms of the creation of new labs, facilities and classrooms.

Two hundred thousand more students are attending universities and colleges since 2002-03 and there’s a 13 per cent increase in enrollment at Queen’s. In addition, more disabled students, Aboriginal students and students who are the first in their families to attend post-secondary institutions are coming to universities, Milloy said.

“Sixty-three per cent of Ontarians have post-secondary education. This is the highest in the world but still not good enough. We want to reach 70 per cent,” Milloy said.

Milloy said that 70 per cent of new jobs require training beyond high school.

“Unless we have a highly skilled workforce we won’t succeed economically,” Milloy said.

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