No party is doing enough to solve student problems, experts warn

TORONTO – With just over a week into the 2021 federal election campaign, experts fear party leaders have not done enough to address the issues facing post-secondary students, potentially hampering the electoral participation of young Canadians.

Katherine Scott, senior economist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, told CTVNews.ca on Thursday that “the whole subject of youth” was largely absent from the election campaign.

“Their experience during the pandemic, obviously access to education, the current affordability crisis and the attempt to establish a foothold in the workforce – all of these issues got no attention,” Scott said. during a telephone interview.

Among the main party leaders, only NDP leader Jagmeet Singh mentioned student problems during a campaign shutdown in August. In addition, the subject was not broached once during the leaders’ debates.

Scott said there had been “minimal treatment” on student issues in party platforms, with some not including any promises regarding post-secondary education and student debt.

The liberal platform pledged to eliminate federal interest on student loans and continue doubling Canada scholarships for low-income students – something that was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic .

The Green Party promises to abolish post-secondary tuition fees and cancel existing federal student debt, while the NDP says it will write off up to $ 20,000 in federal student debt per student and eliminate interest from the debt for good. student debt.

Before becoming Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole promised in 2019 to give new graduates up to $ 100,000 in tax breaks during their first three years of study, engineers, coders and the skilled trades. benefiting from a tax exemption of $ 200,000 over five years. .

However, the current party platform does not mention it, nor does student debt. CTVNews.ca has contacted the Conservatives several times during the campaign for an update on what they promise post-secondary students, but has yet to receive a response.

Scott said the lack of attention to issues primarily affecting young voters is likely due to a shorter election campaign, as parties more often focus on “high-voting constituencies” and those that are more likely. to vote.

Although voter turnout among youth increased in the last federal election, it is still lower than other demographics, according to data from Elections Canada.

ACCESS TO VOTING

Grace Barakat, a doctoral student at York University writing her thesis on student debt policy and affordability in Canada, says voter turnout will likely be lower among young Canadians this year after Elections Canada said in August he was dropping his Campus Voting program due to COVID-19[FEMININE[FEMININE

Barakat said on Thursday that students have enough to worry about managing their studies and don’t need the added stress of knowing where and how to vote.

“Cancellation of the Vote on Campus program may compromise the ability of students to vote away from home. It is imperative that voting be made accessible and convenient for students, especially those who live far from their home constituency, ”said Barakat. in an email to CTVNews.ca.

Barakat said “voting should be easy”, but instead, eliminating the Vote on Campus program creates “another barrier that prevents young people from voting”.

Elections Canada introduced the program to 39 campuses in the 2015 federal election, at a time when political engagement and participation of young adults had been declining mainly since the 1970s, according to the Library of Parliament.

According to data from Elections Canada, the 2015 election saw an 18.3 percentage point increase in voter turnout among 18 to 24 year olds after the program was implemented. The program was then expanded in the 2019 federal election, with 119 polling stations at 98 post-secondary institutions.

Linyuan Guo-Brennan, associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of Prince Edward Island, called the program’s cancellation “an unfortunate situation.” She cited the short campaign as the reason Elections Canada could not hold a safe vote on campus amid the pandemic.

“This is a huge obstacle to the participation of young people in democracy and the exercise of their right to vote,” she said in an email on Thursday.

FUTURE OF STUDENTS

Guo-Brennan said university students and recent graduates can play an “important role in post-pandemic recovery,” if leaders address the issues that concern them.

She added that the lack of attention to these issues, such as concerns about post-secondary debt, education policy and student affordability, “will certainly negatively affect” the motivation of young people to vote in this election.

As a student herself, Barakat says she wants to know more about parties ahead of election day on how students will play a role in helping the economy recover from the pandemic, especially marginalized youth who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“To recover from the pandemic will require a strong and accessible post-secondary education system. With many students and families grappling with the economic impacts of COVID-19, we must ensure that post-secondary education is affordable and accessible to all, ”said Barakat. .

“Now is not the time for marginalized students to take on debt to get an education,” she added.

As the parties discussed their various employment plans, Scott said they did not highlight the place of young people in those plans.

Employment sections, including hospitality and tourism, which Scott says are the main employers of young people, have not recovered quickly from the pandemic. In an effort to get more ballots from young people, Scott said parties need to better deal with the economic changes students are currently facing.

“I think parties need to tackle these critical issues facing young people in order to get their attention and get them to vote,” she said.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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