At a conference for Progressive Conservative (PC) students held at UTM on January 19, MPP Rudy Cuzzetto justified his party’s recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP), which were announced on January 17 as part of sweeping changes to postsecondary education.
The Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) South Regional Policy Conference was a chance for OPCCA clubs around Ontario to network and brainstorm policy proposals.
During his speech, Cuzzetto — who represents Mississauga—Lakeshore — spoke specifically on the government’s change to OSAP’s six-month grace period, which was a policy that there would not be interest collected on provincial student loans during the six months following graduation.
In response to a student’s question about the “motive” behind the change, Cuzzetto justified his party’s decision as fiscal conservatism in practice.
“That whole program is costing us $2 billion,” said Cuzzetto. “That’s what it comes down to. It was a $15 billion dollar deficit and $345 billion debt.”
In actuality, the Office of the Auditor General in Ontario projected that the cost of providing low-income students free postsecondary education “could grow to $2 billion annually by 2020-21,” rather than this year.
Cuzzetto acknowledged that requiring interest to accrue during the six-month grace period was a difficult choice. “Sometimes, we’re not going to like everything that we do. But sometimes we have to make tough choices,” he said.
He argued that the PCs were making “tough choices” that he perceived the previous Ontario Liberal Party has been unwilling to make.
He also noted that the financial burden of the program would apply to people like the attendees’ family members. “Don’t you think we’re taxed too much already in Ontario?” he asked the attending audience. Most students murmured in approval in response.
Cuzzetto qualified his statement, saying that he does think taxation is necessary. “But we have to find efficiencies and run the province more efficiently,” he said.
Yousuf Farhan, Treasurer & Director Technology of the UTM Campus Conservatives, followed by asking Cuzzetto how the PC party is planning to address possible increases in tuition for students in deregulated programs not subjected to the PC’s 10 per cent cut in tuition fees, such as programs in Computer Science.
In response, Cuzzetto said that he “won’t be able to answer that,” but would be able to get him relevant information at a later point in time.
The Varsity was unable to confirm whether or not deregulated programs would be affected by the cut.
Farhan also asked if the PC party was aiming to significantly reduce the province’s fiscal deficit and eliminate Ontario’s debt by the end of its four-year term.
Cuzzetto said that the PCs were “probably not” going to eliminate the province’s debt in four years, but he is hopeful that the party could reduce the deficit, contingent on a strong economy and its continual elimination of inefficiencies.