Throne speech and budget sideline campaign promises

What an NDP government means for post-secondary students

Christine Beyleveldt // News Editor

With the NDP Government overseeing British Columbia for the first time in 16 years, big changes are in order – especially for students.

Backed by the Green Party, the BC NDP promised significant differences in the governing of the province, and there are several topics that Premier John Horgan brought to the table that could impact students. Some of these issues include affordable rents, decreased interest on student loans, free tuition for former children in care and, of course, higher provincial minimum wage.

When the BC Liberals gave their last throne speech on June 23 shortly before Christy Clark lost a vote of confidence, and by extension, her majority government in the legislative assembly, the party changed stance on several issues that brought them closer in line with the NDP platform.

Beginning on Aug. 1, the interest rate on student loans decreased from prime plus 2.5 per cent to just prime, which will cost the province an additional $17 million per year in taxpayers’ money to alleviate. In the NDP platform in advance of the May 9 provincial election, Horgan promised to eliminate interest on student loans altogether and provide students with $1,000 grants upon completion of post-secondary, which was absent from the official budget released on Sept. 11.

In advance of Horgan’s throne speech on Sept. 8, George Davison, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE) noted that removing interest rates on student loans altogether could cost the province between $30 and 40 million per year. “So that’s $30 or 40 million less per year students will be paying to the government on those loans they have accumulated over their post- secondary careers,” said Davison. “That’s a good thing for students and former students.”

Horgan ultimately made no mention of lowering interest rates when he delivered his speech.

In addition to seeing tuition removed from Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English Language Learning (ELL) courses for domestic students, the NDP repealed post-secondary tuition fees for former children in the care of the government – those who lived in foster homes or residential children’s homes.

Also included in the NDP platform was a promise to build 114,000 rental and co-op homes, as well as provide $400 of annual rental home credit to tenants. A rental home credit will offset increasing rental rates by providing tenants with $400 to aid them in paying their rental fees.

According to The Globe and Mail, census data from 2011 showed that there were slightly fewer than 525,000 households in the province who rented, the rebates could have cost over $200 million per year. Many students struggle to pay for rent and tuition simultaneously, especially those living away from home while attending college or university. However, Horgan didn’t touch on the rental rebate he proposed during the election during the throne speech, and it was also omitted from the budget.

As Davison pointed out, providing access to post-secondary education in the form of lowering interest on student loans and eliminating tuition on courses that many consider essential education eases the burden on students. “In our view it’s a start, we now have to try and address the huge increase in tuition,” he said.

Tuition rates have increased by 400 per cent since 2001 according to the FPSE, while wages have lagged, although Horgan is committed to a $15 per hour minimum wage. But someone has to foot the bill, and making post-secondary education more affordable for students transfers the remaining costs to taxpayers.

1 Comment
  1. “When the BC Liberals gave their last throne speech on June 23… the party changed stance on several issues that brought them closer in line with the NDP platform.”

    It’s pretty generous to say the BC Liberals changed stance – given how those ‘changes’ were polar opposite to everything they had campaigned and governed on in terms of education and students. No one is forgetting their tearing up the agreement with BC Teachers in 2001, and all the intransigence and outright opposition to progressive funding levels in the 15 years since. It’s pretty obvious that Clark had it in for Teachers, and students were the collateral damage. And the cynicism it took to flip-flop on 15 years’ actions in a six-week period, is patently obvious.

    Thanks to the BC Liberals, any transition will be painful. Work now being done by the new GreenDP government to recover from that lost era, and strengthen the prospects for students right through to post-secondary, clearly needs time and patience. Reducing interest for example helps get us to the no-interest that would be ideal. With any luck, BC Liberals will leave those attitudes behind and help build a new 21st century education system.

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