Until widespread vaccination, Canada should freeze student loan repayments

Raechel Huizinga

Until job opportunities for Canadian youth are restored to pre-pandemic levels, it’s unreasonable to mandate students make loan repayments.

A recent iPolitics article reported that, between February and December of 2020, the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 24 dropped 10.5 per cent—the highest decrease of any demographic group in Canada since the pandemic began. According to the article, 63,000 Canadians, 27,000 of which were youth, lost their jobs in December. That same month, several Canadian politicians took off for luxury vacations outside the country.

In March 2020, the Canadian government froze student loan repayments because of the pandemic. In October, the freeze was lifted because the pandemic ended. Just kidding: the Public Health Agency of Canada is projecting that new cases of COVID-19 will start reaching between 13,000 and 30,000 per day.

It’s the same rhetoric we’ve experienced throughout the entire pandemic: we’re back in lockdown, but there’s no CERB; there’s an emergency stay-at-home order, but you can still go skating; local businesses are dying, but corporations can still operate. 

The unemployment rate for Canadian youth isn’t going to return to where it was pre-pandemic until the circumstances of the pandemic have disappeared—a reality not possible until well after widespread vaccination.

According to Canada’s vaccination rollout plan, many Canadians could be vaccinated by this fall. In the hierarchy of vaccinations, however, it’s unclear where students fall.

Students who aren’t health care workers will likely fall into Phase 3 of Canada’s immunization calendar, which, in Ontario, could see vaccines widely available this August to anyone who wants to receive them. In other provinces, however, vaccinations could take longer, and there have already been delays in securing doses.

Don’t Forget Students is a group which formed during the pandemic to advocate for student financial support from the Canadian government. On Nov. 20, the group began collecting signatures for a petition to, among other requests, reinstate the moratorium on student loan repayments until this May and extend the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), which ended last September.

When it comes to Canada’s economy, it’s clear students have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. By accepting the recommendations of the petition, the federal government would prove it cares.

According to Statistics Canada, more than one in three post-secondary students had a work placement cancelled or delayed last April. Now, we’re facing another summer of COVID-19, and, at least for me, anxiety about employment opportunities is growing. Pausing student loan repayments and interest build-up until at least September could ease that anxiety.

Raechel is a fifth-year English student and The Journal’s Editor in Chief.

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