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B.C. eliminates interest on student loans

B.C. goes a drastically different direction than Ontario.

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Ubyssey | Report

British Columbia’s Finance Minister Carole James announced on Thursday that the B.C. government will eliminate all interest on provincial student loans, effective immediately.

The decision follows the lead from Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

“Instead of worrying about growing debt, young people will be able to focus on learning, and graduates will be able to put their energy into their next steps in life,” said James during Thursday’s budget speech.

First promised during the NDP’s campaign trail, the change was previously recommended by the BC Finance Committee in November following years of lobbying from student unions including the UBC Alma Mater Society, or AMS.

The society and several others in B.C. argue the loan interest means that poorer students end up paying more than those parents can completely finance their education.

“The elimination of interest on student loans will have an immediate impact on students who are burdened by their debt,” said AMS Vice President of External Affairs Cristina Ilnitchi in a press release.

“It’s a very exciting step towards affordable post-secondary education and an important recognition from the provincial government that they must take action to alleviate the difficult financial situations students face during their studies.”

“It is rewarding to see our hard work and advocacy pay off, making education more affordable and helping recent graduates transition into the next phase of their lives,” said Chair of the Alliance of B.C. Students Noah Berson in a press release.

“Every student group has been asking for this for years.”

In British Columbia, funding for student loans is provided jointly by the federal and provincial governments.

Thursday’s decision eliminates interest on the provincial component of those loans, which were pegged at the prime rate, but does not affect interest charged on the federal part, which is prime rate plus 2.5 per cent.

The government said it would invest $318 million over the next four years to eliminate those loans, estimating that it will save students $22 million this coming year alone.

Collectively, the ministry said an average undergraduate borrower will now save $2,300 in the 10 years after graduating.

But not all requests from the student unions were successful.

Despite the B.C. Finance Committee’s recommendation, the budget does not touch on open education resources, upfront grants or gender-based violence and sexual assault support.

“There are still many crucial investments into post-secondary student support that need to be made, especially in the creation of a robust up-front needs-based grants program,” reads the AMS’ press release.

The provincial government has made a commitment to making life in B.C. more affordable and to deliver better services—making university more accessible so that students who otherwise cannot afford to get a post-secondary education is an important path towards this goal.”


Image via Mackenzie Walker/Ubyssey. Article syndicated via Canadian University Press from The Ubyssey. ■

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Canada

Quebec's religious symbols ban survives ruling

The Court of Appeal would not suspend the law.

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Quebec’s contentious law banning religious symbols for public employees survived a key ruling on Thursday by the province’s Court of Appeal, however, it is not the final say on Bill 21 as more legal challenges await.

The court refused a motion by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims to suspend the law. The CCLA and NCCM argued the law was outside Quebec’s jurisdiction, was vague and violated rights guaranteed in the constitution. 

Quebec’s government claims the law aims to preserve secularism in the Francophone-dominated province. It specifically bans civil workers such as teachers and government service workers from wearing crosses, hijabs and other religious attire while working.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the bill claiming discrimination and that it is unconstitutional. Thursday’s 2-1 decision does not legally impact four separate lawsuits filed on a similar basis.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh came under fire during the federal election campaign for refusing to say he would intervene on the legislation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not certain either, and said his government “might” intervene.

All three of the justices wrote in their decision that the law is causing “irreparable harm” to those impacted, particularly women, CBC reported.

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Campus

Province appealing to restore Student Choice Initiative

An Ontario court ruled against the SCI in November.

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File photo of Premier Doug Ford.

The provincial government under the Progressive Conservatives is applying for leave to file an appeal against a ruling from the Divisional Court of Ontario that overturned the Student Choice Initiative.

A leave for appeal is a procedural measure that must be taken before an appeal is heard by the Court. Thus, the ruling of the Court stands and the SCI continues to be deemed unlawful.

The initiative, known as the SCI, was introduced earlier this year and came into play this fall semester. It allowed students to opt-out of paying certain “non-essential” ancillary fees that fund student unions, campus publication and other post-secondary organizations across the province.

The mandate came from the university and colleges ministry and was not passed through Queen’s Park. PC Party officials insisted to The Avro Post that it allowed for freedom of choice, allowing students to pay only for services that they felt was worth their financial support.

In response, the provincial division of the Canadian Federation of Students and York University’s student union filed a legal challenge against the SCI, stating that they failed to consult with students and should not have interfered with the autonomy of student unions.

Judges ruled unanimously in November to throw out the SCI, an unexpected victory for student allies. They found that the government has “no legal power to control the universities even if it wished to”.

A brief filed by the province on Monday evening states that the ruling restricts the authority to attach conditions to the funding given to public colleges and universities, according to reports by student newspapers.

“Attaching conditions to government grants in no way interferes with university autonomy and independence,” the brief reads, adding that post-secondary institutions “remain free” to accept taxpayer dollars, subject to the conditions that come along with the funding.

Over $5 billion comes from provincial coffers to the province’s 21 publicly assisted universities and 24 funded colleges. The Progressive Conservatives argue that the introducing optional student fees is an attempt to allow students to save more financially.

The court ruling, however, pointed out that the optional ancillary fees are a small portion of what students pay in tuition and other fees. For students at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber, there was only a charge of $55.95 compared to hundreds in overall fees.

The Winter 2020 semester starts in January and fees are due shortly. Some campuses are currently considering their legal options for removing the opt-out option for ancillary fees, The Globe and Mail reported.

IGNITE did not participate in the lawsuit against the province and did not offer support. The student union also refused to respond to the November ruling against the SCI until the government gave a statement. ■

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Ontario

High school teachers launch day-long strike

The OSSTF is now on strike.

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Photo for demonstration via Pexels.

The union representing public high school teachers launched a one-day strike on Wednesday morning after a deadline for a deal was missed, the first strike in 22 years by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

This means that classes are cancelled at public and Catholic high schools for the day. The bargaining team for the union had remained in their caucus room since 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning but there was no provincial representation, OSSTF said.

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