TORONTO — Three of Ontario's four main parties are pledging to reverse cuts to the province's student assistance program, but they've all attached different price tags to the promise.
The program that converted many student loans to grants and made tuition free for some students was turfed by the Progressive Conservatives after they took power in 2018. The auditor general predicted the cost of grants issued through the Ontario Student Assistance Program would reach $2 billion annually by 2020, far greater than anticipated by the former Liberal government, which introduced the scheme.
The Green Party is promising $1 billion annually to reverse the cuts and the Liberals are pledging $600 million a year, while the NDP have budgeted $771 million next year and $834 million the year after that, in addition to just over $40 million annually to convert student loans into grants.
"We will be reintroducing an OSAP program that is as generous for middle- and low- income Ontario students as that existed prior to 2018, prior to Doug Ford reversing the progress that we had begun to make for more accessible and more affordable post secondary," Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said at a campaign stop in the Ottawa area on Monday.
"We're also going to take the interest off of student loans so students only have to repay what they borrowed as opposed to interest on top of that."
When Del Duca released his costed platform two weeks ago, he said his party "looked at the amounts that we felt were required in order to hit the affordability challenges that post secondary students are facing" and arrived at a figure slightly lower than what the auditor general warned the promise would cost back in 2018.
The New Democrats, who are prepared to spend a couple hundred million dollars more per year on the pledge, said they want Ontarians to graduate debt-free.
"An Ontario NDP government will ensure a quality post-secondary education is accessible to all Ontarians who want one, and work towards a future where tuition is never a barrier to education," the party said in an emailed statement.
The Greens, who are promising to spend the most money on student grants, said Ontario's tuition rates are too high.
"We recognize that we have to make significant investments in our post secondary institutions," party leader Mike Schreiner said Monday during a virtual news conference.
His in-person campaign stops have been put on pause after he came down with COVID-19 last week.
"Ontario has the highest per capita tuition rates in the country and the lowest per capita funding for our post secondary sector. So we ... need to increase investments in colleges and universities to continue to offer the world class education that we offer," he said.
The Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, don't plan to reverse the cuts they made.
Instead, a party spokesperson said, they cut tuition rates by 10 per cent and froze them.
"If re-elected, we will maintain the current tuition freeze for an additional academic year," the spokesperson said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2022.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press