The Ontario New Democrats say they will freeze tuition fees for post-secondary students for four years and eliminate interest on the provincial portion of student loans if they are elected.
Party leader Andrea Horwath announced the proposal Thursday morning at an appearance at the Ryerson University students centre.
"We can't continue to allow the tuition fees to spiral. We need to get a handle on that. Any plan that doesn't tackle that head-on is not going to be one that helps students in the long run," Horwath said under a giant student-made banner that read "Tuition fees are too damn high."
The plan would cost $110 million to implement in its first year, $195 million in the second, $280 million in the third and $365 million in four years' time.
The NDP plans to reimburse universities and colleges for the lost revenue through the provincial transfer system.
Eliminating the provincial portion of the interest would save students $60 a year on a $25,000 debt load, the party said.
The Ontario Liberals have pledged to cut post-secondary tuition rates by 30 per cent for lower- and middle-class families, but have not committed to an outright tuition freeze.
The Progressive Conservatives have vowed to pour an additional $2 billion into the education system over four years.
Several student groups, including the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, said they welcomed the party's move to lift some of the financial burden off students.
But some who watched the announcement complained the program would barely make a dent in the massive debt most graduates shoulder.
'It's peanuts,' one student says
The interest relief plan would allow students with $25,000 of debt to save about $60 a year, the NDP said. Graduates still paying off their loans would also be eligible for the savings.
"It's peanuts," said Jeffrey O'Hearn, a third-year finance student at Ryerson. "What is that compared to $25,000 of debt?"
The Liberals, who have made education a focus of their campaign, wasted no time in dismissing the NDP's plans.
John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities, called the tuition freeze a "pale imitation" of his party's platform, which promises a 30 per cent reduction in university tuition fees for families earning less than $160,000 a year.
"That's better than a freeze," he said.