Students protest Tory plan to uncap tuition fees

Premier Brian Pallister and his Progressive Conservative government defended its plan to remove a cap on tuition as university students protested the move outside the legislature Thursday afternoon.

Bill 31 would allow for five per cent tuition hikes annually

University students marched to the Manitoba Legislative Building Thursday to protest the government's Bill 31, proposed legislation that would see a cap on tuition fees removed. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister and his government continued to defend a plan to remove the cap on tuition fee increases for Manitoba's post-secondary institutions as university students protested the move outside the legislature Thursday.

The government introduced legislation in March that would allow for tuition hikes of five per cent plus the rate of inflation annually. If enacted, the legislation, known as Bill 31, would go into effect starting in the 2018-2019 school year.

"On our campuses there are already students who are struggling to pay for tuition, for food, for rent — an increase to tuition will slam the door shut for hundreds if not thousands of students who can not afford the cost," said University of Winnipeg Students' Association president Laura Garinger in a speech in front of those gathered for the rally at the legislature.

"It will slam the door for post-secondary education for those who seek it in the future." 
University of Winnipeg Students’ Association president Laura Garinger says the union is working with the school to improve its sexual violence policies and procedures. (CBC)

When the bill was introduced in the spring Education Minister Ian Wishart said the tuition hike — which is supported by post-secondary institutions — is needed to allow schools to hire better professors and offer better quality education.

Manitoba has the lowest tuition rates in Western Canada and Wishart has said universities and colleges will be required to maintain average tuition rates lower than those in other western provinces or risk having their provincial grants cut.

Pallister defends the plan

Pallister defended the proposed tuition hikes when speaking to reporters after Question Period on Thursday. 
Premier Brian Pallister says other government initiatives will mean students will have more money to cover the cost of tuition. (CBC)

He said other changes his government is making or has planned — including raising the basic personal tax exemption and their promise to lower the PST — will leave students with more money in their pockets to help cover the costs of post-secondary education.

He also said an increase in funding for the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative announced by the Tories in March shows the government is supporting students.

"It's a program that will, once fully subscribed, quintuple the amount of money available to young people who need that help in scholarships and bursaries," he said.

Carlen Comegan-Ronke, Manitoba chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, says the changes to the bursary program will not make up for the proposed five per cent tuition hike. 
Carlen Comegan-Ronke, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students—Manitoba says more money for bursaries and scholarships won't even out a five per cent tuition hike. (CBC)

"Obviously tuition fee increases are not good, because, as it is, it's hard for students to afford education," she said after Thursday's rally. She also said the fact Manitoba has the lowest tuition rates in Western Canada doesn't mean the rates should be raised. "It's a selling point to keep students here, but if students are seeing a rise in tuition fees, what's stopping them from leaving the province?"

Pallister says his government will do an "ongoing analysis" of enrolment data from post-secondary institutions in Manitoba going forward and didn't rule scrapping the hike in the future if it appears to be affecting enrollment numbers.

Tuition rates are currently capped in Manitoba and tied to the annual rate of inflation.

NDP leader Wab Kinew has said Bill 31 would be reversed if his party is elected back into power.