"Students are excited about getting out the vote, so we're here reminding people to vote, and ask that when they do to Vote Education!" - Charlotte Kiddell, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students - Nova Scotia.
"Let's not confuse low voter turnout with youth apathy. Youth are very civically engaged, but we don't always see the government prioritizing the issues that are important to us." - Charlotte Kiddell
This election, students and youth are making their voices heard through the Vote Education campaign.
Students in Nova Scotia are graduating into one of the weakest labour markets for youth in Canada. Throughout 2016, there were 2,600 fewer youth employed than in 2015.
At times of high youth unemployment, students are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the workforce. High competition for work means that students are forced to take on multiple, precarious, part time jobs. Increasingly students are also forced to work unpaid internships, sometimes even paying to work for free in the hopes of developing experience that will lead to paid work. Governments needs to ensure students are fairly compensated for the work they do - to do anything else would be to condone the exploitation of young people. Banning the use of unpaid internships and eliminating the inexperience minimum wage rate will help achieve that.
We asked all major parties if they support a ban of unpaid internships and the elimination of the inexperienced minimum wage rate.
It is concerning to see that the NDP is the only party to support banning the inexperienced minimum wage rate and unpaid internships. When the Liberal and PC parties say that they will explore options on these issues, paying certain people less (or not at all) for the same work cannot be an option. It is illegal to not pay people for their work in Canada and there is a basic expectation that political parties respect this right.
The PCs identify the importance of “maintaining a competitive marketplace” and the Liberals want to enhance opportunities that will “help [students] be successful”. We have to careful about this language, as young people are often told that they must pursue unpaid internships to remain competitive in the job market, and that this temporary sacrifice will lead to meaningful employment later on. In reality, unpaid internships have created a revolving door system in which unpaid workers cycle through what were previously entry-level positions, and which rarely result in meaningful employment afterwards. In addition, unpaid internships are only possible for people with alternative forms of stable income – that means that the employment marketplace is only competitive for those who can afford to play the game.
In addition to committing to eliminating the inexperienced minimum wage rate, the NDP have committed to implementing a $15 minimum wage. We also applaud this commitment as an important step to address poverty in Nova Scotia.
The MOU Partnership Board is the body that negotiates the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that has historically regulated or deregulated tuition fees, ancillary/auxiliary fees, and university funding. With university Presidents looking out for their own institutions, the current structure of the MOU Partnership Board cannot broadly evaluate the post-secondary education system in Nova Scotia. Students, faculty, and staff are invested in ensuring that the system is sustainable and maintains its high reputation worldwide. The same is true on the institutional level, where, even with substantial cuts in funding, senior administrative salaries have ballooned over the past ten years. Without the power to ensure that university funding is used for core services, students are placed in a vulnerable position.
We asked all major parties if they would commit to putting students, faculty and staff on the next MOU Partnership Board, and if they would sponsor legislation to increase the power of these groups on university boards. Here’s what they had to say:
We welcome the explicit commitments from both the NDP and PCs to ensure students are part of the negotiation of the MOU. We further applaud the NDP for committing to sponsor legislation to increase the representation of students, faculty and staff on university boards.
We urge the PCs and the Liberals to be more specific in their proposals for student, faculty, and staff inclusion in campus decision-making. Too frequently, student, faculty and staff contributions to on-campus decision-making are reduced to symbolic and non-binding consultation sessions. Increasing the number of student, faculty, and staff who are voting members on Boards of Governors’ would increase the power of those who are most affected by decision-making on campus.
Fixed Election Dates
Engaging students in electoral politics should be a top priority for all political parties. One of the best ways to ensure this happens is to have elections take place when a majority of students are on campus. Post-secondary institutions can serve as hubs for students to receive education materials on how to vote and even have early access to on-campus polling stations. Election dates can be guaranteed in Nova Scotia by adopting fixed election dates that make sure polling day is in mid to late October. Fixed election dates will also guarantee that provincial elections do not overlap with municipal or federal votes, thereby helping prevent voter fatigue. Considering that Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada without fixed election dates, this is a long overdue reform to our province's electoral system.
We asked all major parties if they supported fixed election dates. Here’s what they had to say:
We welcome both the PCs and the NDP’s commitment to implement fixed election dates to support democratic participation, increase accountability, and encourage youth participation.
The Liberals have cited other provincial governments who have not always bound themselves to fixed election dates to justify a lack of action on this matter. While fixed election dates are certainly not the only necessary democratic reform, fixed election dates in Nova Scotia are long past due. At this time, majority governments are accountable to no one but themselves when calling an election, and will inevitably call elections at a time that benefits them and not necessarily voters.
Students were disappointed that the previous Liberal government chose to call the election during the summer when it is hardest for students to vote. Students are often first-time voters, relocate frequently, and their government-issued identification doesn’t always align with their current residence. Because campuses are centralized hubs where students can be educated on how and why to vote, these barriers make it harder for students to vote during the summer when students are not on campus. During the academic year, polling stations can be set up on campus making voting even more accessible for students. During the last federal election, more than 75,000 students voted in advance on-campus polling stations across the country.
One in five women studying in North American post-secondary institutions experiences some form of sexualized violence over the course of her studies. An estimated four out of five women who have experienced sexual assault do not report out of fear of being re-victimized in the legal process.
Universities and colleges are in a unique position to play a role in preventing sexualized violence, but thus far have consistently failed to protect their students. Instances such as the rape chants at St. Mary's University, the management of the Dalhousie Dentistry incidents, and the lack of sexual assault policies demonstrate institutions' refusal to invest in safer campuses. The provincial government has a role to play in challenging rape culture, protecting students, and supporting survivors. Provincial legislation mandating on-campus sexual assault policies, dedicated funding for survivor supports, and data collection and reporting already exist in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.
We asked all major parties if they support the implementation of provincial legislation to combat sexualized violence on campus. Here’s what they had to say:
We are reassured to see that both the NDP and PCs have committed to take action against sexualized violence on campus by implementing legislation. Although the PCs response quoted above does not mention legislation, we’ve since confirmed this commitment. Before the election was called, both parties tabled legislation that met students’ recommendations. The Liberal party’s response, however, is inadequate to address this urgent and pervasive issue.
The Liberals propose to address sexualized violence on campuses in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a non-binding document that offers no recourse to students should universities violate its terms. In the past, government staff have colloquially referred to the MOU as “gentlemen’s agreements”, and confirmed that it does not allow government to hold universities accountable. Furthermore, the MOU only mandates universities to adopt stand-alone sexual assault policies; it does not mandate the dedicated funding for survivor supports, and data collection and reporting that students support. The limited language in the MOU is brief and vague, with minimal guidance as to how sexual assault policies should be developed or who should be involved in the process.
Nova Scotia’s students deserve the highest form of protection: the law. Legislation to combat sexualized violence on campus is an important step towards ending sexualized violence and building consent culture on campus. In a provincial election period, it’s disappointing not to find all party support for the protection of Nova Scotia’s students.
Enrolment rates of domestic students in Nova Scotia are in decline, but international student enrolment is increasing. While international students contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our campuses, institutions are often investing in international student recruitment as a tool to increase revenue through the collection of massive differential fees. This results in international students paying up to three times the rate of tuition fees as their domestic peers.
While international students are recruited to Nova Scotian institutions with promises of a welcoming and supportive learning environment, many are not told that international students are not granted Medical Services Insurance for their first year in the province, and must rely on expensive health insurance alternatives.
We asked all major parties if they supported offering Medical Services Insurance to international students immediately upon arrival to the province. Here’s what they had to say:
We are happy to see that the NDP has committed to offering Medical Services Insurance to international students immediately upon their arrival in Nova Scotia; it is disappointing, however, to see that the Liberal and PC parties have not made this same commitment.
The Liberals say “Nova Scotia continues to be an attractive option for [international students’] education”. Providing international students with the same healthcare benefits as domestic students would certainly help make this so. The PCs state that this issue is “complex and would require further analysis”, but it’s actually very simple. In Manitoba, international students only need to show proof of enrolment and a study permit to apply for the same health coverage as domestic students. Both the PCs and the Liberals cite the need for more conversation and research on this issue, but a 2009 report commissioned by the Government of Nova Scotia cites that “Medical Services Insurance for eligible international students costs Nova Scotia less than $90 per student per year. It would be an attractive and inexpensive differentiator to offer MSI at no cost to all international students immediately upon their arrival.” The research has been completed, and internationals students have cited the need for change – all we lack is the political will to make this affordable recommendation a reality.
Public health coverage is a fundamental public service that should not be arbitrarily withheld from international students for any length of time. Canada is a country that prides itself on its public healthcare and its welcoming attitude towards the international community; the province of Nova Scotia should be reflecting these values in their policies by providing international students the same healthcare benefits as domestic students.
Tuition fees in Nova Scotia are the second highest in Canada, at an average of $7,218 per year, and the fastest rising in Canada, at 5.6% a year. This has resulted in students in our province graduating with the highest debt load in Canada, at $39,600, compared to a national average of $28,000.
High levels of student debt are an impediment to Nova Scotia’s economic growth. Relying on debt to finance education means that the full impact of high tuition fees is delayed until after graduation, as indebted graduates have less available funds with which to begin their lives. At a time when the province needs to encourage our graduates to buy a home, start a family, and pursue entrepreneurship, high student debt discourages all of these things.
Student debt also impacts career choices, even among professional faculties such as medicine and law. The high upfront cost to obtain a post-secondary education is a barrier that can prevent those in need of financial assistance from being able to fully participate in the economy for upwards of 10 years post-graduation. All of these factors depress the economic contribution by graduates and lead to a stagnant economy.
We asked all major parties if they supported:
- Reducing tuition fees;
- Increasing public funding;
- Replacing student loans with upfront and needs based grants.
Here’s what they had to say:
The Liberals have chosen to respond to the issue of tuition fees with a commitment regarding student financial assistance. It is important to understand that increasing levels of student financial assistance is not the same as reducing tuition fees. Tuition fees are an upfront barrier, while student financial assistance can reduce that barrier during or after the cost as been acquired. The most effective way to increase accessibility, however, is to eliminate the upfront fee and equalize immediate financial access.
The NDP has committed to eliminating fees at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) for all students, and reducing university tuition fees by 10% over four years. This is an exciting and innovative prospect for students in Nova Scotia and across the country. In light of massive youth job losses and limited employment opportunities in this province, we should be investing in affordable skills training that benefits young workers and well as those adapting to a constantly changing labour market. The elimination of tuition fees at NSCC would also benefit university students who complete the first two years of their program in community college. The NDP commitment also includes a 10% reduction in tuition over 4 years. While we recognize this as a first step towards more affordable university education, a more aggressive tuition reduction strategy is needed to combat the student debt crisis in Nova Scotia. In anticipation of this year’s provincial budget, it was our recommendation to reduce tuition fees by 10% in one year.
The PCs have committed to bringing tuition fees down to the national average. We applaud both the NDP and the PCs for committing to tuition-reduction strategies, however PC’s commitment begs many questions. The national average of tuition fees fluctuates every year based on provincial adjustments, which reveals the need for federal oversight and funding to regulate fees levels across the country. It’s not clear on what timeline fees would be brought down to national average, nor is it clear if tuition fees would be allowed to increase if the national average were to rise.
Since the mid-90s, tuition fees have skyrocketed as a result of cuts to public funding, and so any strategy to reduce tuition fees must include investment in our post-secondary institutions.
The PCs are encouraging cutting administrative bloat as an alternative to new funding, and while administrator salaries do represent a disproportionate amount of university budgets, reductions to tuition fees without public investments represent a real cut to operating budgets and will detrimentally affect the quality of education.
The Liberals have simply referenced the existing Memorandum of Understanding’s 1% annual increase The NDP, by contrast, have called upon the need for a federal funding formula to increase available public funds to support post-secondary institutions. Joining students in their call for a federal Post-Secondary Education Act will be a crucial step in realizing an accessible system of post-secondary education in our province. Cuts to federal transfer payments to the provinces in the 1990s are the root cause of provincial reliance on tuition fees. We have also confirmed that the NDP would invest 68.5 million over 4 years to counter the 10% reduction in tuition fees.
In this case, each party has a unique position on how they would improve student financial assistance.
The Liberals are proposing to adjust an existing program – the debt forgiveness program – to increase eligibility to those who complete their degree in 5 years. Currently, this program will forgive up to 100% of your student loan, but only if you are a Nova Scotian student who completed their degree in 4 years. The Liberals have presented this program as offering “over $30,000 in non-repayable support,” however debt forgiveness is not the same as offering non-repayable grants. Grant programmes offer non-repayable student financial assistance immediately. Debt forgiveness, on the other hand, requires the student to acquire the debt for the duration of their degree, and it is only after the degree has been completed within the eligibility of the program that your debt might be forgiven. Under this system, students who do not complete their degree, or take more than 4 years to complete, or take a second degree receive zero support from the government. We believe that student financial assistance shouldn’t act as a reward for completing your degree in 4 years, or even 5 – it’s a necessary public service most effectively offered through grants.
The PCs have proposed reintroducing the Graduate Retention Rebate, a programme cut by the Liberal Government during their term. This programme offered tax rebates to graduates of Nova Scotian universities who were gainfully employed in the province for at least 5 years after their graduate. While we support increasing funding to student financial assistance, this programme was proven to be ineffective, as less than 5% of eligible graduates utilized the rebate. The funds allocated to this program in the platform would be much better spent on replacing student loans with student grants.
While the NDP have not committed to replacing student loans with grants, they have committed to increasing the amount of grant money available, and have cited the student assistance models in Ontario and in New Brunswick as best practices. Both of these provinces have recently invested in student grants programs which prioritize low-income learners, and claim to offer free education to those who make less than $50,000 a year. While students welcome these significant investments in grants programmes, they cannot replace a tuition reduction model that seeks to remove the upfront barriers entirely.
Regulation 67 prevents anyone on Income Assistance from benefitting from student financial assistance, suggesting that people who live in poverty are less deserving of a post-secondary education.
We applaud the NDP for committing to repeal this unjust regulation, and encourage the PCs to adopt a similar position.
The Liberals response to this question is troubling. The Career Seek program and Education to Work program were established as a means for learners on Income Assistance to access university or college, respectively. In order to be eligible for these programs, the student must be approved by their social worker and must prove that they require post-secondary education in order to find employment. Only 7 people have utilized the Career Seek programme since 2013, compared to the 1600 people who benefited from both income assistance and student financial assistance prior to the implementation of Regulation 67. Career Seek and Graduate to Work only exist because those on income assistance are not allowed to pursue a post-secondary education programme longer than two years. Instead of protecting these programmes, we encourage all parties to remove Regulation 67 entirely.
On April 18th, the Canadian Federation of Students - Nova Scotia delivered a letter to then-Minister of Labour and Advanced Education Kelly Regan on behalf of over 600 concerned students and community allies. This letter outlined the need for provincial legislation to combat sexualized violence on campus, and called upon the Liberal government to implement this legislation that they had previously blocked.
Local Xpress published this letter in full and you can read it here.
"Nova Scotia’s students deserve the highest form of protection: the law. Nova Scotia has consistently sparked a national dialogue about campus rape culture, but we are shamefully lagging behind when it comes to taking action to protect students. We, survivors, students, community organizers and allies urge the Liberal government to immediately pass legislation recommended by students to combat sexualized violence on campus."
Our Chairperson Charlotte Kiddell had a great interview on Global News Morning! She chatted #VoteEducation, youth engagement, and the consequences of student debt with Paul Brothers, who shared a personal anecdote about youth outmigration. Charlotte's response:
"I hear [about] it all the time from students who love this province and can’t afford to stay here. Not when they are graduating with such high debt and then we’ve lost so many youth jobs. We’ve had the highest youth job loss all around the country in the last two years. So students are graduating, they’re burdened with massive levels of debt, and they can’t find work, and it’s forcing people to leave."
"Youth apathy may not be real, but the government’s apathy to addressing our issues certainly is. Students in Nova Scotia have seen government after government ignore our demands for lower tuition and better youth jobs, shirk their responsibility to pursue a respectful nation-to-nation relationship with the Mi’kmaq nation, and refuse to support ambitious policy to fight climate change. Young people are passionately engaged in social movements, but so often our obstacles are the very governments who ignore our voices and then come asking for our votes."