Where do the four parties stand on post-secondary issues?

Manitoba’s general election is in full swing, with a variety of issues and platforms being put forward to Manitoba voters. With that in mind, The Uniter decided to take a look where the four major parties stand on post-secondary issues.

Progressive Conservative Party

While the Progressive Conservative party has dedicated a small aspect of their “Growing Communities” strategy to post-secondary education, it doesn’t appear to be a prominent plank of their platform.

The PCs have proposed a system of tuition fee increases based upon the rate of inflation, which mirrors the New Democratic Party’s position on the issue. The PCs see the potential increase in tuition as a necessary part in keeping Manitoba’s post-secondary education institutions at a high operating level.

In addition, the party supports creating a system for clear academic credit transfer, so students would be able to easily transfer credits between academic institutions without penalty.

In a recent interview, Mavis Taillieu, the party’s advanced education critic, explained the PCs support access to academic institutions, but also made clear the party would articulate a clear position on the issue after they examined the full financial situation within the province.

“Students deserve to see long-term what their fees will be like,” said Harpreet Turka, PC candidate for Wolseley, the riding in which the University of Winnipeg is situated. “We’ve been calling for multi-year funding plans for post-secondary institutions. You need to plan beyond the next fiscal year.”

One issue the Tories seem to have changed their position on is the University College of the North. While previous leader Stuart Murray campaigned against the construction of the northern facility, current leader Hugh McFadyen endorses the institution as “training opportunities for northerners and aboriginal students.”

New Democratic Party

The New Democrats have many plans and promises to uphold regarding post-secondary education.

“Accessibility is the main focus,” said Rob Altemeyer, NDP candidate for Wolseley. “We want to make it so that students who want to go to school can go to school.”

Making post-secondary education more accessible by lowering tuition fees is an issue of immediacy for the NDP.

“Our promise is to freeze tuition at the rate of inflation,” Altemeyer said, a promise also made by the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals.

The NDP pledge to increase funding five per cent each year for three years if elected. There is a strong focus on building affordable housing and rental units, which would directly benefit students, said Altemeyer.

“This is the type of work that I get really excited about, and there is never enough,” said Altemeyer. “We have to work with non-profit community groups and other levels of government.”

NDP support would continue for programs like ACCESS, a loan, bursary and grant program that offers assistance to under-represented groups like single parents, aboriginals, rural residents, women and people with disabilities.

While in government, the NDP has increased post-secondary funding by more than 90 per cent, improving infrastructure and providing staff with sufficient wages.

The renovation and expansion of new post-secondary institutions in areas like Thompson and The Pas, would provide out-of-province, rural, international and local students with additional enrollment opportunities.

Opening new apprenticeship jobs is also a priority, which encourages “keeping the best and brightest and the labour force here (in the province),” said Altemeyer.

Manitoba Liberal Party

The Manitoba Liberals have attempted to bring post-secondary education issues to the front of the debate in this provincial election, making them a major part of their platform.

Like the NDP and the PCs, the Liberals also committed to keeping tuition fee increases on par with inflation. As well, the party pledged to commit more funding for post-secondary institutions by removing the payroll tax on any publicly funded university or college.

The party unveiled four major components of their platform early on in the campaign.

The first major proposal within the education section would be a system where students who attain high academic standing in grade school would receive financial assistance in the form of financial credits for university later on.

The Liberals would also provide credits for students who demonstrate a strong sense of community and leadership, who would otherwise be unable to pay for university.

As well, the Grits have promised they would give students rebates on tuition fees in exchange for high academic standing and consistent attendance in their classes. The system of rebates would result in payments being made during different points in time during a student’s academic career.

This aspect of the program would also include rebates for those students who choose to stay in Manitoba after the completion of their degrees.

Finally, the Liberals vowed to create a transit pass for all university and college students in the province that would provide them with access to free transit.

The Green Party

The Green Party wants to “recycle” existing tax credits, providing $115 million for universities. The funding would be allocated to retaining staff and creating infrastructure.

The Greens anticipate lowering tuition fees, an act that would be a joint effort between government and post-secondary institutions, modeling the “universally accessible” education system that European countries like Ukraine hosts.

“Education is a huge economic driver,” said leader James Beddome, who is running in Wolseley.

International students pay significantly more for tuition fees. Beddome says this is unfair, considering that international students stay in Manitoba after they graduate, contributing to our economy.

“We have really great programs here, we don’t want to sell ourselves short,” said Beddome. “We’re committed to a long-term plan, working with existing and constraining budgets in Manitoba.”

The Greens would implement free bus service in urban centres. Bedomme suggests that saving over two dollars a trip would put more money into local businesses instead.

Incorporating “Eco Literacy,” a foundational part of the Green platform, would introduce students in their early years to programs that surround ecological principles.

“The future is in sustainable business – finding ways to produce products with less pollution,” said Beddome.

Published in Volume 66, Number 5 of The Uniter (September 29, 2011)

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