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By John Intini
Canada's Finance Minister, Paul Martin, fielded a flurry of questions from Western students regarding federal finances yesterday.
Martin's interactive question and answer session in University College was part of a two day stop in London. Tuesday, Martin announced a $90 billion budget surplus.
Martin told a nearly filled auditorium the debate over what to do with the surplus is divided among three groups. One group wants the money to be used to reduce the debt, another wants it to be used to create tax reductions and the last wants the surplus to be used for social spending. Martin said the Liberal government is committed to a balance.
Entering the university setting is a vital part of the process in starting debate.
"It is no coincidence the first public consultation, the first public exchange of views is here at Western, at a university," Martin said.
This issue of university accessibility was raised by third-year medical student Herbert Brill, who asked how the federal government is planning to remedy the problem of rising medical tuition, which already far outweighs the maximum amount allowed by loans.
Although Martin cited the benefits of the Canadian Millennium Fund which he claimed would soon help 100,000 Canadian students, he added he was unaware of the medical students' concern.
After the session, Brill said he got the response he was expecting. "I knew the minister wouldn't know about the issue." He added it is vital the government either calls for a decrease in tuition or increases the maximum allowed through loans, in order to further develop the medical field.
University Students' Council president SzeJack Tan asked Martin his opinion on the impact the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations' lobbying has had on the government.
"I think CASA has done a superb job," Martin said. "They have been very tough on the government as so they should."
Mark Kissel, VP-education for the USC and CASA's Ontario chair, said it is crucial more money is pumped into universities to provide much needed funding. He described the Millennium Fund and the tax cut on student loans as back end solutions.
Second-year political science student David Goldberg said he was not completely pleased with the way Martin addressed student problems.
"He didn't get to the student issue of making universities accessible to students," Goldberg said, "Even after listening to him I still don't know what his long-term plans are."