Election hopefuls talk education policies

Liberals, NDP pledge to eliminate student loans, PCs look to increase donations for scholarships and bursaries

Provincial leaders Brian Pallister (PCs), Greg Selinger (NDP), Rana Bokhari (Liberals).

As the provincial election draws nearer, all three major parties have released their education policies to be put in place if elected. The Manitoban sat down with a representative from the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Progressive Conservatives to discuss their plans for education.

Liberal Party

If elected on April 19, the Manitoba Liberal Party has pledged to convert student loans into forgivable grants by reallocating $10 million annually from the Manitoba Student Aid budget, currently designated for student loans.

The Liberal candidate for Charleswood, Paul Brault , said the party will make helping students in need a priority. According to Brault, there is a large segment of the population that does not have access to post-secondary education due to funding. These people – primarily living in the North End and the inner city, as well as Manitoba’s indigenous population – will be the target of the grants.

Like the Liberals, the NDP plans to convert student loans into grants. According to Brault, the Liberals have some concerns about the NDP’s expansion on their policy.

“I believe [the Liberal’s plan] takes a look at a balance of the fiscal responsibilities that we have as a province and the needs of students. Yes, [the NDP] put more into the pool and they increased it in some aspects. But for every promise, there needs to be a source of funding […] The NDP took our playbook and made some changes, and made an announcement. I think it shows that this is an important aspect to focus on.”

The Liberal party is also planning to fund two case studies on minimum guaranteed income for the province. Brault said this would “revolutionize student debt and other factors that preclude students from moving forward.”

Brault said a minimum income would ensure all constituents earn a livable wage and increase graduation rates – particularly among people who do not currently have the financial means necessary for post-secondary education.

The Manitoba Liberals have no current plan in place for investing in the post-secondary institutions themselves and addressing the U of M’s second round of budget cuts, but is looking to evaluate the needs of the campuses to create a plan going forward.

“We know that the universities had to make some very difficult decisions,” said Brault.

“Education should not be a political football. Education needs to be a function of community bringing forth their ideas and needs, with the industry’s needs and having this conversation to move it forward. That’s our party’s commitment – to really take the politics out of education and really look at where we want to be.”

Brault cited education as being a major point of interest for the Liberal party, stating that education is key to the province’s progression. He further criticized the PCs for their lack of commitment to education policies.

“We’ve heard a number of promises from the NDP, but we haven’t heard a lot from the Progressive Conservative Party. What we have heard is increasing bursaries and bringing private sector funding into these bursaries. If you take a look at that, they are holding their cards very close, there is no commitment on the part of the PCs in increasing or decreasing funding,” Brault said.

“I think the concern as well is that we don’t know where they stand on it. Their whole education policy that they brought forward is very scant […] I have some concerns with that.”

New Democratic Party

If re-elected this year, the Manitoba NDP has promised to turn student loans into grants at a price tag of $40 million a year, to keep tuition fees low, to double scholarship and bursary funding, and to invest in post-secondary institutions – including $150 million to the Front and Centre campaign at the U of M. They have also promised to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities in Manitoba by 1,500, as well as develop two climate research centres – one at the University of Winnipeg and one in Churchill.

“It starts with making sure we have great institutions so that young people can get a good education,” said Greg Selinger, current premier and NDP candidate for St. Boniface. “I think our [education policy] is the most specific, the best funded, I think it’s the most comprehensive, and I think it builds on our record of doing this over the last several years.”

Selinger is critical of the PCs’ education policy, specifically the potential to raise tuition rates in Manitoba and the party’s lack of a commitment to funding the post-secondary institutions themselves.

“We have heard that the Conservatives are talking about going to the Canadian average on tuition, which would be about $3,000 more per year, which is a big dent on a family or an individual’s income,” he said. “The Conservatives are making no commitment to core funding, they’re making no commitment to student grants.”

Selinger contrasted his party’s policy to the PCs’ platform – particularly the NDP priority of keeping tuition in Manitoba among the lowest in Canada, mentioning how his party has capped tuition increases in the province at the rate of inflation during their time in office.

“You can see a tremendous amount of improvements at the University of Manitoba, just in faculties. We lowered tuition and allowed it to only grow by the rate of inflation, and offset that with grants to the institutions. We’ve kept our core funding up to the universities during these difficult times. It’s not like we started yesterday, we’ve been building new initiatives all along […] I’ve got to say , we’ve been doing a ton of stuff for education,” Selinger told the Manitoban.

“We’ve put a big emphasis on the economy, we’ve put a big emphasis on making sure people have jobs, and we’ve put a big emphasis on education. And we’ve done it every single year, in spite of everybody criticizing us and voting against the budget.”

Progressive Conservative Party

The Progressive Conservative Party’s education policy, should they be elected, is primarily focused on K-12 education. They are planning to work with teachers to try to ensure all students in Manitoba have the resources they need to reach minimum learning outcomes – which they claim is currently lacking in the province.

“We found in the last 17 years that we’ve hit rock bottom in the country in regards to a lot of our educational outcomes, specifically in literacy and math. So we find that we have to start there, we have to start with a foundation,” said Wayne Ewasko, PC education critic and candidate for Lac du Bonnet.

Moving into post-secondary education, the party is primarily concerned with increasing accessibility by doubling the funding allocated to scholarship and bursaries to $20 million. The increase will include $2.25 million in additional public funding – growing the public portion of the fund from $4.5 million to $6.75 – but is meant to come primarily through donations from the private sector.

“We believe there are many people throughout this province that are willing to invest in our youth,” said Ewasko.

“If you look at the Front and Centre initiative that the U of M has done, look at that fundraising campaign, this is unprecedented. These people haven’t ever really been asked [to donate], and now they are, and the money is flowing in. Why? Because our youth is our future, education is our future.”

In terms of investing in the post-secondary institutions themselves, the party is looking to review the provincial government’s budget and reallocate funding into healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The party has not yet made a commitment to the amount of funding to be provided to post-secondary institutions.

According to Ewasko, the PCs have concerns with the NDP spending plan, claiming that the NDP education policy – to convert student loans to grants, donate $150 million to Front and Centre, and double scholarship and bursary funding – is not financially feasible.

“Right now what we’ve seen is that the NDP have absolutely increased their spending, without any plan on how to pay for some of that spending,” said Ewasko.

“I believe these institutions are running much like any type of household, where they’ve got a certain budget and they have to stick within that budget […] The government right now, and hopefully come Tuesday that will change, they’re of the belief that the post-secondary institutions should have a budget and stick to it, and not go over it. But yet, the government themselves are not following that pattern. They feel it’s fine to go, this year alone, three-quarters of a billion dollars into debt.”