Niki Ashton, NDP education critic and MP for Churchill, Manitoba, recently introduced a private member’s bill that would increase the federal government’s involvement in the accessibility of post-secondary education. The bill has since been scratched as a result of the upcoming federal election, but Ashton hopes the proposed law will spark debate about the accessibility of university and make college education an election priority.
Ashton’s legislation, Bill C-635, would provide stricter criteria to ensure the equality of academic standards in institutions across Canada. The bill does not call for more federal funding, but instead increases regulations for the distribution of current funding. Currently, the federal government does not play a significant role in financing post-secondary education; the most significant recent federal policy on this issue has been to increase the number of loans granted under the Canada Student Loans Program.
“The idea here is to see that federal government shows leadership in working with the provinces to make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable for students,” said Ashton. “We view this as something that ought to be a priority of our national government, and the federal government can be part of achieving that by establishing a more accountable and transparent framework for giving funds to post-secondary education.”
The bill has been criticized on the grounds that it would complicate the nationwide structure of post-secondary institutions. A recent Winnipeg Free Press article stated that, “There is such a high level of conformity between universities and provincial governments on this file that any federal legislation might only confuse accountability and add another layer of bureaucracy, while conferring little benefit.”
Ashton responded to these criticisms by saying that the federal government needs to be actively involved in helping provinces make post-secondary education more accessible to all students.
“We ought to have a federal government that is assisting in making post-secondary education more affordable, and working with the provinces to do so,” she added.
Joël Pednault, incoming SSMU VP External, does not see the bill as addressing the key obstacle to post-secondary education.
“I don’t see a policy making education more accessible coming from the federal government,” Pednault said. “Their main goal should be to increase funding.”
Although the bill is no longer moving through Parliament, Ashton is still optimistic that it will play an important role in the impending election.
“What we’re saying is that this is also about generating debate,” Ashton said.
“When I’ve visited with students across the country, I’ve shared the message with them that this is an issue that we ought to be raising with our members of Parliament, our candidates from all parties, and challenging them to look at a vision for post-secondary education that includes the federal government and includes real investment that benefits students.”