Canada must invest in post-secondary education if it is to be prosperous in 2017, the year of its 150th birthday, Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) leader Michael Ignatieff told a packed atrium at the University of Manitoba on Jan. 14.
The meeting was part of an 11-stop university speaking tour, which ended on Jan. 18. The talk was a town hall-style meeting, with many questions focused on education and the environment.
“If we’re going to prosper in 2017, we have to be the best-educated society on Earth,” said Ignatieff. “[We need to be] the most energy efficient society in the world.”
Part of the Liberal leader’s plan to better prioritize post-secondary education is to scrap the current funding cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSP), a federal program meant to assist First Nations and Inuit students by providing financial assistance for tuition, travel and living expenses. Funding for the program is capped at a two per cent annual increase.
Ignatieff also advocated for the reinstatement of a dedicated transfer, which would require that a certain portion of federal transfer payments must be used for investment in post-secondary education.
“If you really think that education is a priority, then you should have federal transfer money [to the provinces] allocated to specific places,” said Sid Rashid, president of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union.
The environment also featured prominently at the meeting. Ignatieff reiterated his party’s position that cap-and-trade is the best option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that a Canadian policy shouldn’t be dependent on the United States.
Paul Hesse, chair of the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition, expressed concerns that Winnipeg has not received federal funding for the construction of rapid transit to the University of Manitoba. Ignatieff responded by committing to a national rapid transit strategy.
“The minute you do [invest in rapid transit], you can densify the population around the station stops [which means] less car use, less emissions, better lifestyle,” he said.
The Liberals have seen a recent jump in the polls after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s controversial decision to prorogue Parliament until March 3.
“It seems to me that young people care more about causes than they do about politics in general,” said Jeff Kovalik-Plouffe, the 27-year-old campaign manager for Ilona Niemczyk, the Liberal candidate in Elmwood-Transcona. “Ignatieff has shown through this tour that the LPC is not a party just driven by 60-year-old Toronto lawyers.”
Critics have painted the tour as merely a publicity stunt for the former university professor.
“Returning to a milieu in which he is at home among generally supportive students is probably a good way to refresh his spirits and hone his thoughts,” said Ron Graham, a freelance writer and journalist on Canadian politics, in an e-mail. “[But] I think he has been as disappointing to young people as to everyone else, maybe more so.”
Graham wrote a scathing article in the January/February edition of The Walrus, a national affairs and general interest magazine. The article, titled “The Stranger Within,” criticized Ignatieff as a politician without a message whose time abroad has hindered his ability to understand uniquely Canadian issues.
The campus tour was part of the lead-up to an LPC conference to be held in March, in Montreal, billed as “Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge.”
To read more about the event, and the appearance of two lone demonstrators, visit Ethan Cabel’s blog at http://www.uniter.ca/blog/entry/2786
Published in Volume 64, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2010)