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Montreal students protest “debt sentence”

Melissa Gendron | The Concordian | News | January 16th, 2006

MONTREAL (CUP) -- Student demonstrators gathered outside Radio-Canada studios on Monday night to protest Paul Martin's broken promises and demanded a reinvestment of federal funding to Canadian universities and colleges.

Staged by the Student Voter Coalition, the rally, set to coincide with the Montreal round of the televised leadership debate, was sparked by Martin's newly unveiled proposal for post-secondary education funding. Among other things, Martin's new plan promises to pay half the first and last year tuition for undergraduate students, up to $3,000 per student a year.

The demonstrators, about 75 of them, all brandishing signs reading “Education Shouldn't be a Debt Sentence,” aimed to send one clear message to the government: Make education a priority. The Student Voter Coalition, which encompassed over 125 000 McGill and Concordia students from major student associations, believes the new plan to be insufficient.

“The plan is simply inadequate and doesn't go far enough in addressing how badly undefended post-secondary institutions across Canada are,” said Steven Rosenshein, VP Communications for Concordia University's student union.

According to protesters, the prime minister's new promise falls short of the billions needed to replenish funds for Canadian universities and college.

Since 1994, the federal government has slashed funding by over $4.9 billion, leaving colleges and universities scrambling for cash. Many institutions have little choice but to pass on the cost to students with tuition hikes and increasing class size. As a result, classrooms are overcrowded and students see their debts rising. Rosenshein said he doesn't believe education is a priority for Martin.

During the 2004 election, Martin promised to a national television audience the allocation of “seven to eight billion dollars” in transfer payments for post-secondary education.

Brent Farrington, a representative from the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students said students have yet to see any of that money.

The CFS wrote to Martin after he made the promise, asking for a clarification and a time-frame within which to expect the new funds. Less than two weeks before the next elections, they are still waiting for a reply. Or for something dramatic to happen.

Still, others try to stay optimistic. “The plan is a great start...I just hope that it doesn't die after Election Day,” said Lee Johnson, 28, a first-year law student at McGill and preparing for a PhD at the university of British Columbia.

Johnson, who's completing his 29th term as a full-time university student, says he's witnessed past federal funding going to lab research or the construction of new buildings and he's just glad to see a bid to provide tuition relief as opposed to one that ignores students. Johnson did not attend the rally but had a few words for Martin and the Liberals.

“Nice one, Paul… It was you, as finance minister that, in large part, presided over the out-of-control tuition increases of the nineties! If you want to refund half of the tuition I paid in my first two years retroactively, I might even vote for you!”

For more information visit the Student Voter Coalition website
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