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e-2986 (Education and training)

E-petition
Initiated by Brandon Rhéal Amyot from Orillia, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Government of Canada

Whereas:
  • Canada's post-secondary education system requires students to take on unprecedented debt to obtain an education that is increasingly a necessity;
  • As of 2016, student debt in Canada exceeds $36 billion with $18 billion owed federally and is the cause of one in six bankruptcies;
  • 39% of students are struggling with food insecurity due to the rising and unaffordable cost of food, tuition fees, and housing;
  • Canada's youth unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 29.4% in May and is still at crisis levels (18.8% as of October) while further deterioration remains a strong possibility due to the second wave; and
  • Bold national leadership is required to transform the current piecemeal funded post-secondary system into a high-quality, well-resourced system that will benefit students and Canada as a whole.
We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, students studying in Canada, and post-secondary education stakeholders, call upon the Government of Canada to implement a plan for pandemic relief and stimulus for Canada’s post-secondary sector and students that:
1. Utilizes the funds originally allocated for the CSSG and remaining funds from the $9 billion allocated for post-secondary students in April to extend the CESB while also including International students;
2. Includes newly graduating students and recent graduates (retroactive to Fall 2019) in Employment Insurance and the new CRB program;
3. Extends the moratorium on student debt loan interest and payments until May 1, 2021, with consideration of further extensions based on the public health and economic situation, and commits to significant student debt relief;
4. Expands the Canada Student Grant, returns to 50-50 cost-sharing with provinces and territories, and increases funding for post-secondary institutions.

Response by the Minister of Seniors

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): Irek Kusmierczyk

The Government of Canada recognizes the challenges that students face in accessing post-secondary education and remains committed to ensuring that post-secondary education is affordable and student debt is manageable, even as the cost of education continues to rise.

Over the course of the last few years, the Government of Canada has invested significantly to support post-secondary education students. Starting in Budget 2016, the Government of Canada increased Canada Student Grants by 50% and expanded eligibility to more students, especially benefiting students from low-income families. As a result, over 478,000 students from low- and middle-income families are receiving up to $3,000 per year in support they do not need to repay, and students with disabilities and those with children receive even more through targeted grants. Thanks to these enhancements, almost one third of a student’s total federal financial assistance comes from grants that do not need to be repaid, and this contributes to lowering their overall debt load in the long-run.

In Budget 2016, the Government of Canada also expanded eligibility for the Repayment Assistance Program, which provides support to borrowers who have difficulty repaying their Canada Student Loans. Canada Student Loan borrowers using Repayment Assistance Program do not have to make a payment until they earn at least $25,000, an increase over the previous level of $20,210. Repayment Assistance Program also makes it easier for student loan borrowers to manage their debt by paying back what they can reasonably afford, and ensures that borrowers who qualify will have an affordable monthly payment. In 2018-2019, more than 330,000 borrowers benefited from Repayment Assistance Program, of which 85% were not required to make any payments on their loans. 

Announced in Budget 2019 and beginning November 1, 2019, the Government lowered the interest rate on Canada Student Loans and made the six-month non-repayment period interest-free. The floating interest rate, the rate chosen by approximately 99% of Canada Student Loan borrowers, was lowered to prime, from its previous rate of prime plus 2.5%. The fixed rate was also reduced from prime plus 5% to prime plus 2%. Together, these measures will help over 1.1 million borrowers and provide the average borrower with savings of approximately $2,000 over the life of their loan.

Taken together, these measures have benefited students such that the three-year default rate on direct loans has fallen to an all time low of 9% and Canada Student Loan debt has, in real terms, plateaued over the last decade.

The Government of Canada also provides targeted supports for Indigenous students, through an investment of $327.5 million over five years in the Post-Secondary Student Support Program for First Nations learners, $125.5 million over 10 years for Inuit student access to post-secondary education, and $362 million over 10 years for Métis student access to post-secondary education. In addition, the Government of Canada is investing over $11.8 million annually from 2019-20 to 2021-22 (and then $3.8 million ongoing) in Indspire, an Indigenous-led registered charity that supports the education of Indigenous people. Indspire provides mentoring, learning supports as well as scholarships and bursaries to First Nation and Inuit students to pursue post-secondary education. In 2018-19, Indspire provided $16.3 million through 5,553 scholarships and bursaries to First Nation, Métis and Inuit students.

The Government of Canada recognizes that student are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic, including disruptions in their studies and internship opportunities, the transition to new forms of learning, a lack of summer and student employment, a reduced ability to save for school, and greater overall uncertainty about the future. These barriers are occurring at a time when access to post-secondary education is more important than ever for economic success in Canada’s modern and evolving labour market.

In order to maintain and expand access to post-secondary education during the pandemic, the Government of Canada, announced a series of measures as part of its COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan that will help Canadian students and recent graduates overcome these challenges and support their future success. For example, the Government of Canada has adopted the following measures:

  • From March 30, 2020, to September 30, 2020, interest accrual was paused on all Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans, and no payments were required. This relief measure was automatically applied and is estimated to have benefited approximately 1.1 million students in repayment. This measure expired at the same time as the introduction of interest- and payment-free leave for a maximum of 18 months for borrowers taking temporary leave from their studies for medical or parental reasons (expected to benefit 5,300 students annually). The Government has also taken steps to ensure that borrowers are aware of Repayment Assistance Program if they continue to face financial challenges following the end of the repayment freeze, and eligible borrowers are encouraged to apply.
  • The Government of Canada introduced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which provided financial support from May to August 2020 to students who could not find summer employment due to COVID-19, or were working but did not expect to make more than $1,000 (before taxes) over the four-week period for which they were applying. Eligible students received $1,250 per month, and students with dependants or a disability received an additional $750 per month, for a total of $2,000 per month. More than 700,000 unique students (over 2 million total applications) received close to $3 billion in financial support through the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. The benefit ended on September 30, 2020, and authorities for the funding expired thereafter.
  • The Government of Canada also increased supports available through the Canada Student Loans Program for the 2020-2021 school year, so that students facing financial difficulties could access and afford post-secondary education.
    • The value of Canada Student Grants was doubled for all eligible full-time students (up to $6,000 per year), and part-time students (up to $3,600 per year). Canada Student Service Grant for students with permanent disabilities and dependants were also doubled.
    • The weekly cap on Canada Student Loans was increased from $210 to $350.
    • The expected contribution from students and their spouses in determining the amount of financial aid a student can receive was removed.

Taken together, it is expected that Canada Student Loan measures will benefit approximately 765,000 returning and prospective students.

Most recently, in the November 2020 Fall Economic Statement, the Government of Canada announced the temporary elimination of interest on Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans, in order to ease the financial burden of student debt during the economic recovery. Pending parliamentary approvals and at a cost of $329.4 million, this measure will take effect on April 1, 2021, and be in place for one year, bringing much needed relief to 1.4 million Canadians who are looking for work or are otherwise in the early stages of their careers.

The Government also recognizes the unique situation faced by international students. A strong quality of life and world-class educational institutions means that Canada attracts a significant number of international students each year. In 2019, there were more than 825,000 international students in Canada. These students not only benefit from the education provided by Canadian post-secondary institutions but also provide tremendous social, cultural and economic benefits to campuses and communities across Canada.

The pandemic has changed the calculus for many international students as COVID-19 mitigation measures have limited international and domestic mobility and shifted post-secondary learning from an in-person experience to an approach where learning is delivered almost exclusively online. To help minimize the impacts of the ongoing pandemic on international students, the Government of Canada has implemented a number of facilitation measures, which include the following:

  • Since October 20, 2020, international students attending a designated learning institution, determined by their provincial and territorial government as having a COVID-19 readiness plan in place, have been allowed to travel to Canada.
  • Throughout the pandemic, temporary policy changes have been made to the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program to encourage students to continue pursuing their Canadian programs of study. These changes ensure that students can study online in Canada or abroad and remain eligible for the program, thus maintaining the opportunity to work in Canada after they graduate and potentially qualify for permanent residency in the future.
  • In addition, former students in Canada with expired or expiring post-graduation work permits have been given the opportunity to apply for an additional open work permit with a duration of 18 months between January 27, 2021, and July 27, 2021. This will provide former students with additional time to acquire the work experience needed to qualify for permanent residence programs, the ability to support themselves in Canada, and the opportunity to help fill labour market needs.

The Government of Canada also took steps during the pandemic to provide additional assistance to support employment opportunities for students and youth.  Following the cessation of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, the Government of Canada new income supports included enhanced Employment Insurance benefits and a suite of three recovery benefits, namely the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. Students and recently graduates may receive these benefits provided that meet the eligibility requirements.

EI provides regular benefits to individuals who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and are available for and able to work, but cannot find a job. Under the eligibility requirements for Employment Insurance, workers receive Employment Insurance only if they have contributed to the program by paying premiums in the past year, and if they meet qualifying and entitlement conditions. As of September 27, 2020, the Government introduced temporary changes to the EI program to facilitate access to Employment Insurance regular and special benefits. These measures result in a one-time Employment Insurance eligibility requirement of 120 insurable hours across Canada, with a minimum regular benefit rate of $500 per week for at least 26 weeks.

The Canada Recovery Benefit is available to those who are not employed or self-employed for reasons related to COVID-19 and are not eligible for Employment Insurance, or are working and have had a reduction of at least 50% in their employment/self-employment income for reasons related to COVID-19. Among other eligibility criteria, individuals applying for the Canada Recovery Benefit must be available and looking for work, and must accept work where it is reasonable to do so. The eligibility criteria for the Canada Recovery Benefit also includes earning at least $5,000 in 2019, 2020, or in the 12 months before the date of application.

The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit gives income support to be employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they must care for their child under 12 years old or a family member who needs supervised care. This applies if their school, regular program or facility is closed or unavailable to them due to COVID-19, or because they are sick, self-isolating, or at risk of serious health complications due to COVID-19.

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit gives income support to be employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19, or have an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk of getting COVID-19.

In addition to the above-mentioned income support programs, the Government of Canada also made investments in a number of programs to support job opportunities for youth, including students and recent graduates. For example, the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, Canada Summer Jobs, and the Student Work Placement Programs are key instruments to help youth and students access much needed skills development and support to find employment.

The Youth Employment and Skills Strategy aims to ensure that young people (aged 15-30), gain the skills, work experience and abilities they need to make a successful transition into the labour market. In the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, the Government announced investments of $575.3 million over the next two years in the Strategy to provide approximately 45,300 job placements for young Canadians, including students and recent graduates. This is in addition to the investment of $187.7 million in the Strategy announced in Spring 2020 to provide employment placements and skills development supports to up to 9,500  Canadian youth in high-demand and critical sectors such as health, community services, and information technology.

The Canada Summer Jobs initiative provides wage subsidies to not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers, and private sector employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees, to create quality work experiences for young people, including students and recent graduates. As announced in the Fall Economic Statement, the Government is investing $447.5 million in the Canada Summer Jobs program next year and supporting up to 120,000 job placements, an increase of 40,000 from 2020-21 levels. This investment will also be used to extend, by one year, program flexibilities introduced in 2020-21, including the ability to hire youth outside of the summer months to allow youth to access employment for a longer period of time. This is in addition to additional investments of more than $60 million provided last June in the Canada Summer Jobs program to expand the work placement target from 70,000 to 80,000, creating 10,000 more placements for young people in 2020-2021.

The Student Work Placement program is a wage subsidy program that works with delivery partners and post-secondary institutions to provide post-secondary students with quality work-integrated learning opportunities across Canada. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, it is estimated that over 50% of employers were looking to cancel their planned summer student placements. In light of this, a number of program flexibilities were introduced to facilitate participation, including allowing remote placements, flexible dates, and allowing post-secondary institutions to be the employer of record to offer meaningful placements to students. In April and June 2020, the Government announced a total of $266.1 million in additional emergency COVID-19 funding for the Student Work Placement Program to support the creation of up to 40,000 additional paid placements for post-secondary students in 2020-21. Two temporary measures, effective until May 31, 2021, were also introduced to increase the creation of placements: 

  • An increase of the wage subsidy to up to 75% of the cost of wages across all work-integrated learning placements, up to a maximum of $7,500 per placement. This is an increase from 50% for regular placements and 70% for placements for under-represented students (up to a maximum of $5,000 and 7,000, respectively).
  • Waiving the "net new" criteria requiring employers to create more placements than in the past year to be eligible for funding.

Taken together, investments in the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy (YESS), Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) and Canada Student Loans announced in the Fall Economic Statement 2020 eclipse the amount previously allocated for the Canada Student Service Grant. Those funds will continue to support Canada’s youth and students.

Despite the recent investments, the Government of Canada recognizes that more can be done to support access to post-secondary education and job opportunities for youth, especially those most at risk of academic and labour market disengagement. The Government of Canada will continue to seek advice from partners and stakeholders to find additional ways to support youth and students, including international students, and work collaboratively with provincial and territorial governments and others to ensure that post-secondary education in Canada is accessible and affordable and that youth are able to fully participate in economic opportunities.

Open for signature
November 18, 2020, at 4:33 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
January 17, 2021, at 4:33 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Laurel Collins (Victoria)
February 4, 2021 (Petition No. 432-00480)
Government response tabled
March 22, 2021
Photo - Laurel Collins
Victoria
New Democratic Party Caucus
British Columbia
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