Panel offers breakdown of student issues
On March 16, provincial candidates were at the University to discuss student issues. Victor Lau, Leader of the Green Party, represented the Greens; Stewart Kerr represented the Liberals; Scott Moe, Minister of Advanced Education, represented the Sask Party, and Aleana Young represented the NDP. Many ideas were put forward to reduce education costs, including grants, increasing the Sask Advantage scholarship, as well as the Greens promising to provide free university education.
The first question addressed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and what parties would do to bridge the gap in funding for indigenous secondary education. Young of the NDP says her party was “serious about addressing First Nation issues. Something I was excited to see is that the Federal Government promised to close the funding gap for students on reserve. However, if they don’t meet that promise we are fully committed to closing the gap and sending them the bill. I also want to point out, we don’t talk about poverty, and how it affects First Nations students.”
Moe says the Sask Party is starting to see the results of their open discissions of post secondary education. “We are making efforts with our post secondary partners,” Moe said. “First of all, we are encouraging First Nations’ participation in secondary education; they are able to access the existing suite of incentives, the Saskatchewan Advantage scholarship, the graduate retention program, and other services. In addition to that, there are some improvements; we have seen 1,500 First Nations people enrolled in the post secondary education system. As of this fall, we see 10 per cent [indigenous] enrolment at the U of S, and 11 per cent at the U of R. We also have access for remote communities now.”
Kerr says the Liberals are, “100 per cent in favour of the commission.” Outlining the Liberal plan, Kerr said the party wants to, “consult First Nations communities on what we can do for them. We have come up with the creation of a First Nations and Metis development fund to aid entrepreneurs and bring business into the First Nations communities that need employment. Secondly, we would like to advocate with those communities. Next, we want to ensure the social transfer fund is adequately distributed, with the intentions of the federal government in mind.”
The Green Party will “eliminate tuition entirely,” according to Lau. “We have always advocated that education is a right. We have to compete globally; we keep pushing our kids to pursue university, and we burden them with these costs. It’s so close to being done across the country. For Indigenous students, we will advocate and make this a national scandal. Our government is prepared to lead with this.”
Next, candidates were asked about a mental health plan for students. Kerr said the Liberals will promote existing activities. “Here on campus, getting active in campus clubs provides social opportunities, [and] this reduces stress. The big issue with mental health is actually prisoners; we want to end malnutrition, it’s going to lead to reoffending.”
Lau says the Greens’ approach would expand healthcare to include uninsured services. “We believe mental health coverage should be right to the end of your life. For students, we will sit down with them and look at what’s needed, [and provide] more counselors if that’s needed.
According to Moe, the Saskatchewan Party is aware that a larger discussion on mental healthcare is needed. “There has been investment,” he said, “but there clearly needs to be more. We will look at reports to determine where that investment is needed. Some of the issues in reports have been addressed, wait times have been reduced for mental health services.”
“Mental healthcare is healthcare,” declared Young of the NDP. “I think we have to stop pretending otherwise. We need to recognize how critical it is to healthcare, and we haven’t been doing enough. We have to stop passing the buck to community services. For students, cost of living is huge; that contributes to stress, and the NDP will look to address this.
Finally, candidates were asked to provide their plans to keep university affordable. According to Moe and the Sask Party, “Over the past four years, there have been $6 billion invested in post secondary education. There has been a 350 per cent increase in student supports. The Saskatchewan Advantage scholarship will increase to $750, when finances improve. And $10,000 of the graduate retention credits can be used to aid in a down payment for a home.”
Kerr says the Liberals “will stabilize funding so that universities don’t have to rely on rising tuition costs. We want to put funding in place to ensure that the university can grow and continue to grow.”
Lau reiterated the Greens’ commitment to providing free tuition, and says, “even if we are in the opposition, we will keep trying to push for education coverage. If you want a government that listens to you, you have to elect them. Freezes don’t work: they end, and costs jump up.”
Young’s NDP will “increase the Saskatchewan Advantage scholarship to $1,000 per year, and cancel interest on existing student loans while converting future government funding to student grants rather than loans. We are one of only two provinces that don’t regulate tuition – that needs to change. We will consult with stakeholders to help regulate tuition.”
Students and residents of Saskatchewan will head to the polls on April 4 to choose a new government.