A new poll suggests that most voters want what the Ontario NDP wants: to make sure the meter isn't running on student debt.
The Forum Research Inc. survey, provided to QP Briefing, found two-thirds of respondents agreed that Ontario student loans should be interest-free. And not just while the students are still in school – 66 per cent of those surveyed by Forum concurred the loans should be interest-free after graduation, and should stay that way until whenever the principal is repaid.
Only 25 per cent of respondents wanted grads to pay the vig on their loans, and another nine per cent weren’t sure. Forum found that it was the young, the female, the poorer, and the New Democratic who most supported the idea.
As it happens, interest-free student loans have already been pitched by the NDP. Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announced the proposal in September, while visiting St. Catharines' Brock University.
"This government should not be profiting from student debt, from student loans," Horwath said during question period on September 27.
The greatest opposition to interest-free student loans in the Forum poll came from the wealthy, the Tories and the boomers.
“It is interesting to see that those who agree the least with this idea, the oldest and wealthiest, are those least likely to need it," said Forum Research's president, Dr. Lorne Bozinoff, in a release.
The poll found people aged 18 to 34 were most in favour of interest-free student loans, with 73 per cent of those surveyed in that bracket agreeing with the proposal. Boomers, aged 55 to 64, were the most opposed. However, just 31 per cent in that age group didn't support interest-free student loans, while 63 per cent were actually open to it.
More than three-quarters of respondents making $20,000 to $40,000 a year, 77 per cent, backed interest-free student loans, making them the most favourable income group. Those pulling down $100,000 to $250,000 were the most disagreeable, but just 37 per cent of that group were opposed to the idea and 59 per cent said they endorsed it.
The poll's political party breakdown showed 81 per cent of New Democrats supported interest-free student loans, and that 73 per cent of Liberals and 53 per cent of Progressive Conservatives felt the same way.
Forum’s interactive voice response telephone survey reached 1,124 random Ontarians on October 17 and 18. The poll is considered accurate within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The NDP say that Ontario students have been facing the priciest post-secondary tuition fees in Canada since 2009, leaving young people with a four-year undergrad degree an average of $28,000 in debt. As for the annual cost of going interest-free in Ontario, it would be around $25 million, the NDP says, as the government received approximately that amount in the 2014-15 fiscal year in student loan interest payments. The cost may shrink due to the Liberal government's planned reform of Ontario's student assistance programs.
The Ontario NDP's interest-free student loan policy was unveiled shortly after they had also called for the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax to be taken off electricity bills. Not much later, the Liberals announced in their September Throne Speech that they would give consumers an eight-per-cent rebate on their hydro bills – equal to the provincial portion of the HST.
Furthermore, the Liberal government has argued its plan to offer “free” tuition to post-secondary students is a good way to keep them out of hock. Their Ontario Student Grant aims to cover the entire cost of tuition for students hailing from families who make $50,000 or less annually, to be funded by collapsing several different financial assistance programs into a single one.
"What we have done is we have made a change, a dramatic change, in the way support for post-secondary students in this province will work," said Premier Kathleen Wynne on Sept. 27. "Starting in September 2017, students from low- and low-middle-income families will have access to free or greater than free tuition, and students from higher incomes will continue to benefit from the 30 per cent off tuition."