Federal Minister of Finance Bill Morneau made a stop in Barrie yesterday to tour the new Georgian College technology building and take questions from students regarding their economic future.
Students packed into the ABSC Event Space in the new Peter B. Moore Advanced Technology Centre to hear Morneau speak on the federal government’s plan to build a stronger economy.
Morneau joked with the audience during the town hall meeting's question period that they were likely after what would be in the budget set to be tabled March 19.
Morneau said it's necessary to get out in front of the people who are getting ready for their future and hear what they had to ask.
“I think it is critically important,” he said. “First of all, we have about another month before the budget, so we’re still evaluating and making sure we’ve got the right types of things we’re thinking about.
"Hearing from students here today gives me a sense of their concerns and gives me a really strong sense of how concerned they are that the cuts that are going on here in Ontario with the Doug Ford Conservative government and how they really impact them," he added. "Of course, it’s not just about budget 2019, it is about how we want to create opportunity and success over the long term.”
The finance minister heard from students from many different backgrounds and college programs, including a question from vice-president of the student administration and business administration student Jose Quintio.
The international student from Mexico asked if the new provincial government’s 10 per cent tuition decrease for domestic students would affect international student’s already high fees.
“Let me just step back to what the Ford government said and that is they are going to reduce fees, which sounds pretty good, and they were going to reduce funding for OSAP,” said Morneau. “So effectively that means they’re going to reduce fees to those who largely can afford them and they’re going to reduce funding for people who are challenged to afford the tuition. To me, that is the exact opposite of what you want to do.”
Morneau continued by adding, “having people come from other countries to study here has direct benefits to our country today because we’re engaged in ensuring we have more talented people, some of whom will stay here, which is a huge thing for an economy.”
When asked by a student if the federal government had any plans for assisting students who can no longer access some funding sources due to the Ontario government’s changes to OSAP last month, Morneau explained how he feels while disagreeing wholeheartedly with the provincial Progressive Conservatives.
“I want to make a political statement here and I know it’s probably not a room that is so partisan, but we’ve got an election coming up in October 2019 and I am running again as Liberal,” said Morneau. “I will tell you that the people who are running against me are talking about why we need austerity and cuts, the basic debate is do we continue investing in people or do we have austerity and cuts so we balance the budget more rapidly?
"I am absolutely on page that we need to be fiscally responsible, that we need to think about how we can balance over time but we can not leave the people in this room behind by moving quickly to austerity and cuts," he added. "What the Doug Ford government has done is not to your benefit and it is not to the benefit of our long-term economy, so you will not see us going there.”
Morneau admitted the coming federal election in October could be a messy one, however, the Liberal government policies have produced "real numbers" that speak to progress on job creation and employment rates.
“Over the last 3-1/2 years, Canadians have created 850,000 jobs, our unemployment rate has gone from, with the Conservatives and their 7.1 per cent unemployment rate to now a 5.8 per cent, and among the lowest we’ve seen in 40 years,” he said.
“These are the real numbers, my job will be to help understand that the positive news they’re seeing in terms of jobs is because of the policies we’ve worked on together with Canadians.”