Lobby group to build "wall of debt" on Parliament Hill
By Anton Vidgen
A national campaign highlighting student debt loads in Canada
is determined to bring awareness of the issue to politicians,
the public and students alike.
The Generation Debt campaign consists of foam bricks being
distributed to member schools of the Canadian Alliance of
Student Associations and signed by students with their
current or estimated debt loads upon graduation, said CASA
national director James Kusie.
Once all 2,000 bricks are collected, CASA will build a “wall
of debt” with them on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Kusie
said, adding this will coincide with a press conference and
their lobbying of top decision-makers.
“We will hopefully be meeting with Paul Martin in the afternoon
as well as key elected officials in the finance department,” Kusie
said. “We want to get commitments from the federal government
on how to deal with student debt in Canada.
“We are the most indebted generation in Canadian history,” Kusie
said, adding the financial burden created by the current student
loans system is inadequate, allowing only those who can afford
to go to university to obtain a quality post-secondary education.
At the Fredericton campus of the University of New Brunswick,
the total debt load written down by 400 students is about
$7 million, Kusie noted. At the top-end of the spectrum,
a dentistry student at Dalhousie University wrote her debt
as $250,000, he added.
Kusie said the main message of the campaign is to inform
the public that costs associated with post-secondary education
are spiralling out of control and the current borrowing structure
is ill-equipped to deal with the changes.
“I think it’s important that both the federal government
and the public be made aware of the debt loads students carry
as a result of government underfunding [of] universities,” said
University Students’ Council VP-education Dave Ford. “The
wall of debt is meant to represent the barriers to post-secondary
education caused by student debt.”
Ford said he believes the wall will make an impact on the
public and hopes people realize how student debts hurt
both the affected individuals and society in general.
“When students are graduating from university with gigantic
debt loads, it’s not just the individual that suffers,
it’s society as a whole,” Ford said. “I think
there’s economic and social benefits to society as a whole
when we have an educated populace.”
“I think it’s important first of all because it makes
students aware of each others debt,” said fourth-year pharmacology
and philosophy student Suzie Berkhout. “I think there’s
a sort of complacency about it.”