NDP promises to wipe out a lot of student debt as parties prepare for election

·3 min read
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick - image credit)
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick - image credit)

The NDP is promising to wipe out a large portion of existing student debt, pause student loan payments and eliminate student debt interest.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh offered new details Saturday of the party's proposals to make post-secondary education more affordable and — eventually — tuition-free. Singh said a government led by him would:

  • Cancel up to $20,000 in federal student debt per student.

  • Offer new graduates a five-year repayment break.

  • Eliminate student debt interest payments for good.

  • Place a moratorium on student loan payments during the pandemic.

The party estimates their proposals would cost $4 billion in the first year and $1.5 billion annually thereafter.

The Canada Student Loans Program has over 868,000 borrowers and outstanding loans worth $9.77 billion, according to a recent audit of program.

Watch | How would an NDP government pay for all of this?

Singh said he wants to fund increased spending through higher taxes on the wealthiest Canadians, and by taxing companies like Amazon and Netflix that have profited handsomely during the pandemic. He said he would also close tax loopholes.

"Young people are making student loan payments the size of mortgage payments, spending years under crushing debt not able to get ahead. And the COVID-19 pandemic only made matters worse," Singh said in a media release.

Singh announced the campaign plank at the party's virtual youth convention Saturday. Opposition parties have said they are preparing for the governing Liberals to trigger an election in the near future. Speaking to French media earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not rule out an early election.

Singh said young people have been among those hardest-hit by the pandemic's economic impact. Many are paying thousands of dollars in tuition for classes that are no longer being held in person.

Singh accused the Liberals of "profiting off the backs of young people."

The party says it remains committed to working with provinces and territories to eventually make post-secondary education tuition-free for Canadians.

Today's announcement goes further than Singh's 2019 election campaign pledge. During that campaign, Singh said an NDP government would eliminate all existing and future interest charged on federal student loans and work with provinces and territories to cap and reduce tuition fees.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated the cost of those promises would rise to as much as $598 million annually by 2030.

The other parties made promises to students as well. Those measures are archived here in the education section of the CBC's 2019 platform tracker.

A spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough provided a list of measures the government has either implemented or says it is working toward. They include doubling student grants and eliminating interest on federal student loans this year.

"We know students and young Canadians are still facing challenges, and we will continue to do what it takes to be there to support students and help them get through these challenging times," the minister's press secretary, Marielle Hossack, said in a media statement.

As part of their pandemic relief, the governing Liberals suspended student loan repayments. But that financial break ended in September and interest payments resumed in October.

Today's NDP youth convention takes place three weeks before the party's national convention. These conventions allow the party's membership to change the party's constitution, policies and leadership.