Ignatieff calls student aid plan revolutionary

Michael Ignatieff says his $1 billion post-secondary education program would be a "real revolution" in learning, though party officials struggled to explain the plan.

Liberals would give $1,000 a year to high-school students to save for university, college

Crunching the numbers

11 years ago
Reality Check reporter Greg Weston has been crunching the numbers on the Liberal Party’s proposed ‘Learning Passport’ 2:39


  • Total annual cost: $1 billion.
  • $1,000 a year for up to 4 years.
  • Lower-income students would get $1,500 a year.
  • Education, textbook tax credits ended.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Monday his $1 billion post-secondary education program would be a "real revolution" in learning and training.

The program would be run through Canadians' existing Registered Education Savings Programs, Ignatieff said.

The Liberal plan, called the Canadian Learning Passport, would:

  • Give up to $4,000 tax-free to every student who chooses to go to university, college or CÉGEP – $1,000 per year for as many as four years.
  • Give up to $6,000 – or $1,500 each year – to post-secondary students from low-income families.
  • Operate in addition to the tuition tax credit, the Canada student loans program and the Canada student grants program.
  • Replace the education and textbook tax credits, valued at $558 a year, leaving a net $442.

The announcement of the proposed program Tuesday was heavy on fanfare — but not without confusion.

"I can say without exaggeration that this is a real revolution in learning and training in Canada. And that will give us the means of becoming the most competitive society in the world," Ignatieff said in announcing the plan surrounded by students at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.

A Liberal Party release Tuesday morning said, "The Learning Passport will be $1,000 in every RESP account in each of the four years leading up to the typical start of post-secondary education, when the recipient is 14 to 17 years of age."

At an afternoon briefing, however, Liberal party spokesmen said no money would actually change hands until students enter university or college, meaning a Liberal government wouldn't be adding to RESPs in advance. No interest would be earned, therefore, they said.

While the earlier release had praised the value of "putting Learning Passport funding directly into their RESP when students are in high school and still making decisions about their educational choices," in fact the CBC was told later that this wouldn't happen.

The program would be paid for by cancelling planned corporate tax cuts and eliminating two education-related tax credits, the Liberals said.

The Liberals would start the program immediately, allowing students entering post-secondary institutions this fall to receive the full $1,000 amount this year, the party spokesman said.

The Canadian Learning Passport could be used to pay for post-secondary education at any accredited institution, the party said.

If a student completes studies before benefits are fully paid out, the remaining money would remain available to the student for post-secondary education in later years.

But Conservatives slammed the plan, saying it keeps changing — making it difficult to determine its cost.

"The Liberals have gone back and amended their announcement. They've changed the game about four or five times today," Conservative candidate Mike Lake told CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon. "So we have no idea what the costs are of this program."

Lake also questioned whether the proposal would affect that amount of money students receive for Canada student grant programs. The Tories said the Liberal plan would see students lose $1,200 in grants, though Liberal briefers said their proposal would have no effect on eligibility for student loans or grants.

The Conservatives also complained that the Liberals opposed the recent federal budget, which contained measures to help students.

The budget would have forgiven part of student loans to doctors and nurses who work in rural and remote areas, expanded eligibility for student loans and grants at a cost of $34 million, and offered up to $10-million in tax relief for students who study abroad.

Keep costs from rising: Layton

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the main goal for governments should be to keep education costs from rising in the first place.

"Because if tuition goes up by $1,000 as you are receiving the $1,000, you are no further ahead," he told reporters during a campaign stop in Kitchener, Ont.

Layton said the New Democrats forced the previous Liberal government of Paul Martin to cancel a corporate tax cut and invest $1.6 billion into post-secondary education.

"We'll see how serious they really turn out to be," he said of the Liberals.


  • An earlier version of this story, based on information from the Liberal Party, said incorrectly that $1,000 would be deposited in the RESP accounts of high school students. In fact, at a briefing later, party officials said no money would actually change hands until the students enter university, and would be given at the start of each school year.
    Mar 29, 2011 4:15 PM ET