By Rhythm Rathi
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canadian post-secondary students and apprentices no longer have to begin repaying their school loans until they make an annual income of at least $40,000, Canada’s Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan announced in Saint John on Thursday afternoon.
O’Regan announced the new policy, which took effect on Nov. 1, during a visit to the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) campus on Grandview Avenue. He was joined by NBCC president Mary Butler and Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long.
“We need to create more opportunities for young people starting this year and if we could alleviate some of that burden then we will,” O’Regan said at the announcement.
In addition to this, O’Regan announced the federal government will spend $802 million over three years on a youth employment and skills strategy in order to reduce the stress and barriers facing post-secondary graduates in obtaining employment.
According to a government press release, the $802 million will be split into three funnels, with more than $300 million for providing “wraparound supports and job placements to young people facing employment barriers,” more than $400 million to create 70,000 Canada summer jobs, and more than $100 million for the Income Assistance-First Nations Youth Employment Strategy Pilot.
Earlier in the day, in Miramichi, federal Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings announced the feds plan to permanently waive interest on the federal portion of student loans “as soon as possible.” Last month, the New Brunswick government announced it will eliminate the interest on the provincial portion of student loans.
According to Butler, rising cost is one of the major challenges that students face at post secondary education and the costs are not limited to education, but also involve transportation, their time away from work, etc.
“Having some forgiveness, having some additional time to get on your feet and establish that career, putting you at a better financial position to then pay off those loans is a huge advantage to people,” she said.
It also helps to reduce the “anxiety level” among those who are overwhelmed with “so much change going on in the world,” said O’Regan, “We got this for you, you don’t have to pay anything on the student loan until when you are making 40 grand and after making 40 we’re going to lower the interest rates from there on and …we’re gonna look after you.”
He said that such investments not just benefit the economy as a whole but also the people, where they can focus on their job and family. “We are all more tuned with people’s mental health these days, so I always look at programs like this through that lens.”
Long said, particularly in Southern New Brunswick his riding has companies like Moosehead Breweries, JDI, Irving Oil, Cooke Aquaculture etc., and according to him there is not a void of hundreds of jobs coming up, but a void of thousands. He said he attended a job fair at the city’s market square in the morning where there were “five or six hundred unfilled jobs, that employers are looking for.”
“We see the reports where we’ve got to find workers and I mean there’s nobody that is suited than NBCC to train, they can pivot quickly and train and make sure that we have a workforce that’s going to be ready because we are all certainly concerned that, where are we going to fill these jobs.”
Butler said every year there is “tremendous demand for our financial aid” and the college has seen a 33 per cent increase in enrolments over the last three years. She said the college receives a crowd of mature students where the average age is 26 years old and the median age is 35 years old, according to her the students have a family to look after and are often managing both work and school together. She said these provincial and federal supports act as a “safety net” for the students if they face a setback during their education.
“I do believe breaking down barriers has an impact because we’ve already seen that.”
Rhythm Rathi is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL. The LJI program is federally funded.
– With files from Nathan DeLong