Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, our most important resource is our people. We have huge potential in our residents, but Northerners can only reach their full potential with good access to education. An important part of that access is student financial assistance.
Mr. Speaker, since becoming a Member of the Legislative Assembly in 1991, I have probably had more calls to my office about student financial assistance than any other single issue. Of course, that may be due to the time I spent as the Minister responsible for Education. But even as an Ordinary Member, I have found student financial assistance to be a large concern amongst my constituents. It was a significant concern expressed during the last election campaign.
Over the last eight years, I have heard progressively fewer complaints about the operation of the program, and more complaints about the amount of money provided by the program. I know the administration has improved. I think the responsiveness has improved. The speed at which cheques are issued is dramatically faster. But the level of funding has not changed in nearly eight years.
Everyone I have talked with understands that we most likely have the most generous program in Canada. But in the past eight years, inflation has eaten away at its value. The federal government has nearly abandoned support for post-secondary education in Canada by slashing CHST funding, which has left universities and colleges scrambling to survive. This has driven the cost of tuition up, to three or four times what it was just five years ago.
If we want to foster success among northern students, our Student Financial Assistance Program needs to respond to the changes that have taken place in the rest of Canada.
I was pleased to hear the Minister was planning to put forward changes to student financial assistance that would put more money into the hands of students. I tried, when I was Minister, to make changes to the program that would do just that, but could never achieve consensus on how it should be done.
Mr. Speaker, unless more money is put into the budget for the program, changes only move money around. It may look somewhat different, but if we all use the same amount of money currently budgeted for student financial assistance, that means if some students are getting more money, it is coming from other students.
Mr. Speaker, the problem has always been where to get new money from? What program should it be taken from? Members in this House could never agree to shift money from another program so student financial assistance could be increased.
I sincerely hope that is what the Minister is now proposing. I, for one, am prepared to discuss cuts in another area to get more money into the Student Financial Assistance Program. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.