Charest unveils plan to drag Conservatives from the ashes
By Karena Walter
WATERLOO Live via satellite, it's a Progressive Conservative!
Conservative leader Jean Charest unveiled his party's platform for the upcoming federal election yesterday in seven cities across Canada. A remote access hook-up allowed people from Manitoba to Quebec to question Charest in Toronto about the plan he hopes will bring his party into office.
The Let the Future Begin platform promises a balanced budget for the year 2000 and will reduce $12 billion to support tax cuts and increased health care funding.
Charest also boasted some changes to post-secondary education and student aid. "Education and training, I think, is key for the future of the country. And if there's one thing I believe in, it's the role of the prime minister and the contribution the prime minister can bring to this issue."
A new national merit scholarship program worth $100 million will allow more students to go to universities and colleges, Charest said. The program will be available for 25,000 needy students and they will be tested to "allow the best and the brightest to come forward."
The party will also try to institute universal student assistance programs funded by the private sector. Under the plan, an income contingent loan repayment program would be in place. Charest said the private sector will be motivated to invest in assistance because it wants to develop a client base and there are mutual benefits for the post-secondary system and the government.
One thing that has affected all students on Canadian campuses is a cut in cash transfers of 40 per cent, Charest said. "The first thing we're going to do is reverse that trend," he said, adding his government would put $1.4 million more into the fund.
An additional goal Charest set out was that Canada become the most computer-literate country in the world. "The federal government can play a very constructive role to make that happen. We can wave the CRTC fees that would allow schools to be wired, make computer technology more accessible." He used the example of Nova Scotia's Acadia University where every student has a laptop computer.
"Well, why could we not do that for every university student in the country today in Canada?"
For people out of post-secondary institutions and in search of jobs, the Tories introduced new plans for employment. Charest promised to create one million jobs during his party's first term in office.
"The bottom line for us is we looked at what Canadians are expecting," he said. "There's a clear number that says at least a million jobs in the first mandate, at least a million other jobs in the second mandate.
"I think we'll do a lot better than that."
For students not quite old enough to enter universities and colleges, Charest wants to set up a national testing institute for students in Grades 3, 8 and 12. "In this platform we talked about working with the provinces and a partnership to institute national testing so we can find out how we're performing in the maths and sciences."