BUYING THE STUDENT VOTE, $1,300 A POP

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By Danielle Wong

Ryerson students could expect a cheque for up to $1,300 in the mail if they vote Liberal this October.

Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a $170-million “student textbook and technology grant” available to all post-secondary students in Ontario last Thursday.

Students would each get $300, starting next September.

McGuinty also said students who travel over 80 kilometres to get to school will get $500 each semester for commuting. He has budgeted about $9 million a year for the commuter grant.

“We’re the party putting in the largest investment in post-secondary education,” McGuinty said at a downtown pub last Thursday night.

He had just completed his first debate of the campaign, sparring energetically with New Democratic Party leader Howard Hampton and Progressive Conservative leader John Tory.

“We’re bringing hope to the people of Ontario,” McGuinty said.

McGuinty stressed the Liberals have increased student grants and doubled student assistance.

In 2005, McGuinty said, the Liberals invested $6.2 billion over five years into post-secondary spending.

But on his watch, tuition fees also went up by about 36 per cent.

Many Ryerson students are skeptical about the numbers.

“[The travel grant] is obviously never going to happen,” Nick Uayan, a third-year international economics and finance student, said.

“How can they be giving money away if they’re asking for money?” Uayan said, referring to TTC fare hikes that will see Metropasses go up $9 a month for students.

While the decision to raise fares was made by the city, provincial downloading has played a part in Toronto’s budget shortfalls.

“I used to believe in the Liberal kind of thought,” said Natalie Diquattro, a first-year social work student.

“But lately McGuinty’s…broken a lot of promises.”

Now, Diquattro is thinking of voting for the Green party instead of the Liberals.

McGuinty’s many promises seem to have put him on shaky ground.

“Given the heat that McGuinty’s taken on breaking his past promises…he’s not in a good position to break this one,” Ryerson politics professor Tariq Amin-Khan said.

To decide how to vote, Amin-Khan said, post-secondary students need to connect their own situations with those in the larger context of society.

“They need to know about a gamut of issues.

“You have a choice in the division of government,” the professor said.

“You need to study the platforms of different political parties.”

Sandra González, the New Democratic Party candidate for Toronto Centre, was not impressed with McGuinty’s promise.

For González, $300 is “not much.”

“It’s not as sustainable,” she said. “Freeze tuition and in the long term, more kids will be enrolled in university.

“It’s about making education more accessible,” she said.

González added students need to look at the premier’s track record of broken promises.

“Why should we believe this promise considering he didn’t keep others?”

John Del Grande, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Scarborough-Agincourt, said McGuinty’s promises are just “drops in the bucket.”

It’s really about fixed, affordable tuition and the job market students enter after graduation, he said.

While grants would partially help, Amin-Khan said, there are larger issues that the premier needs to address.

“That’s really tuition fees,” he said. And if a country like Cuba provides a free education, he said, why can’t Canada?

“That’s what I’d ask McGuinty.”

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