What a Liberal minority government means for affordable education

The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have won the 2019 federal election with a minority government, claiming only 157 seats in the House when 170 or more is needed for a majority in parliament. Here's what students should expect in terms of education affordability.

Prior to the October 21 election, the Liberal Party ran on a platform promising to increase student grants, while making student loans more flexible and affordable.

Trudeau announced that the Liberal government would give students up to $1,200 more a year through Canada Student Grants.

In terms of student loans, the Liberals promised students a two-year grace period before they would be required to start paying off their student loans. The Liberals would also allow a pause in repayments to Canada Student Loans until graduated students start making at least $35,000 — and repayments would be put on hold if their income ever falls below the $35,000 threshold.

As for new parents who still have debts to Canada Student Loans, the Liberals would allow them to pause repayments, interest-free, until their youngest child turns five.

Although the Liberals have made these promises to students, their lack of a majority government means they will have to make compromises with other parties in order to pass legislation.

But Gerald Baier, an associate political science professor at UBC, said that despite being a minority government, the Liberal party is still behind the wheel in parliament.

“I think there’ll be a lot of discussion of reaching out, consulting [other parties] and so on. But the reality of the way this minority is made up is that the government is in the driver's seat and really has control over the agenda, as it would in any parliament.

“But at the same time, you know, they don't need one particular party, necessarily, to support them, right? They can kind of pick and choose how things happen,” he said.

Baier added that the NDP shares the most similarities with the Liberals but lobbying between parties will be strategic.

“The NDP would be the best case [for the Liberals to pick as partners] because they're the ones who, alone, can help them over the top — they have some similarities in approaches,” he said.

“But then it would be up to the NDP … Which ones [of their goals] are they going to make their support for the budget contingent upon, right? So, will they prioritize higher education over Pharmacare or other things that they promised during the campaign?”

But Baier worries that affordable education would not be a priority for the NDP.

“I would think that actually Pharmacare or dental care is one that they might prioritize more than higher education … they're thinking about the next election and what they want to claim credit for by working with the government a little bit,” Baier said.

Prime Minister Trudeau has announced that he will be discussing future plans with other party leaders in the coming weeks and that his new cabinet will be sworn in on November 20.