Liberal announcement expected on student loan repayment break for new parents

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Measures to make post-secondary education more affordable will take centre stage Sunday when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau unveils his party’s platform, The Canadian Press has learned.

Among the measures to be announced is one that would allow new parents to take an interest-free break from paying off student loans until their youngest child turns five.

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The payment pause would also apply to those who have already graduated but have not yet paid off their student debts, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the platform.

Trudeau is to unveil the platform Sunday at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, where he’ll also take questions from students.

The venue is intended to highlight the contrast between the federal Liberals’ commitment to public education and the cuts to education programs implemented by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.

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Trudeau has been portraying federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as a clone of Ford, especially in the battleground province that accounts for 121 of the 338 seats up for grabs on Oct. 21.

The Ford government has faced protests over plans to reverse more generous student assistance provided by the previous Liberal government, including eliminating free university and college tuition for low-income students and cutting back on grants offered through the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

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It has argued that the changes are needed because the cost of the OSAP program has become unsustainable and must be refocused on students most in need as the province struggles to trim its $7.4-billion deficit.

Ontario’s auditor general last year reported that OSAP costs had jumped 25 per cent and could grow to $2 billion annually by 2020-21.

Ford is also under fire for increasing class sizes in public schools _ a measure the province’s equivalent of the parliamentary budget officer said last week said will mean almost 10,000 fewer teachers over the next five years. Federal Liberals pounced on that report Saturday in a news release from Ontario Liberal MP and campaign co-chair Navdeep Bains.

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“Our future prosperity depends on quality education and care for all of our children,” said Bains, emphasizing that Scheer “said Doug Ford was the best choice for premier of Ontario.”

According to a 2018 Canadian University Survey Consortium report, 50 per cent of post-secondary students graduated with debt. The average debt was pegged at $27,929.

The Conservatives have promised to increase matching grants for registered education savings plans.

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They’ve also promised tax cuts for the lowest income bracket and tax credits for maternity benefits. Neither of those is specifically about post-secondary education but each would affect many of the same people as the expected Liberal promise.

The New Democrats have promised to eliminate interest on federal student loans, increase grants for post-secondary studies, and work with the provinces to eliminate tuition on higher education eventually.

The Greens have pledged to eliminate post-secondary tuition outright and to forgive all student-loan debt held by the federal government.

The Liberals’ promised break on student loan payments is meant to reinforce previously announced measures aimed at making life more affordable for young families.

Trudeau has promised to boost the Canada Child Benefit by 15 per cent for children under the age of one and he’s one-upped the Conservatives by pledging to make maternity and parental benefits tax-free when they’re paid and to raise the basic personal income tax deduction to $15,000 from $12,069 for people making less than $147,000.

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© 2019 The Canadian Press

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