Students will be stuck paying the pandemic debt tab

The lingering financial fallout from the pandemic will cost our students for the rest of their lives

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Jasmine MoultonThe pandemic has been hard on students of all ages. As many parents can attest, their children have missed the social interaction at school and have struggled to focus during online learning. Post-secondary students have missed out on important and exciting life experiences, too.

But even after in-class and on-campus learning has resumed to near normal levels, the lingering financial fallout from the pandemic will cost these students for the rest of their lives.

The provincial and federal governments racked up enormous deficits over the course of the past year that will be tacked on to the hundreds of billions in debt they brought into the pandemic. Ontario’s debt is projected to hit $398 billion by the end of this fiscal year, while the feds’ will surpass $1.1 trillion. The Fraser Institute calculates that each Ontarian’s individual portion of these debts combined now amounts to $58,559.

Imagine how alarming an Ontario birth announcement would be if the sign on the front lawn of new parents read: “It’s a boy, and he’s already nearly $60,000 in debt!”

But the principal amount to be repaid isn’t the only cost of debt. Interest payments on the combined debt of the federal and provincial governments will cost each Ontarian $1,375 this year, according to a report from the Fraser Institute. If parents saved even their child’s portion of that money in a registered education savings plan over 18 years, they’d have a nest egg of $24,750, plus interest, to give their child to help pay for post-secondary education. But because politicians have spent beyond their means, that money goes to our governments’ creditors instead.

Political leadership is needed from provincial and federal governments to address this costly debt burden being unfairly passed on to today’s students, yet sadly the opposite is happening. Politicians love grandstanding about dumping more money into education, even if it’s extremely wasteful.

Consider Ontario’s new French university, the Université de l’Ontario français, set to open its doors to students for the first time in Toronto this fall semester. By the original application deadline of Jan. 15, 2021, UOF had only received 39 applications, 19 of which came from current Ontario students. Data obtained from the Ontario University Application Centre revealed that of those 19 Ontario students, only two listed UOF as their first choice of school. Two!

UOF was jointly funded by provincial and federal taxpayers at $63 million a pop, for a total of $126 million in funding over eight years. That means that if all 39 applicants are accepted and choose to attend UOF this fall, then each student will cost taxpayers over $400,000 this year alone.

While some might like the idea of a French university in Toronto, proponents should first advocate for provincial debt reduction because the $12.5 billion Ontario will spend on interest payments this year could have paid for 99 UOFs (not that there’s enough demand to justify one).

The provincial government also owes taxpayers, current and future, some serious accountability regarding costs in Ontario’s public schools which continue to increase while student performance declines. Ontario Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, should be looking toward innovative models for public education such as charter schools which have succeeded in reducing costs while outperforming other public schools on average in Alberta.

Ontario students have been through a lot this year, but the pandemic will continue to cost them through higher tax bills for the rest of their lives if their parents don’t demand governments get their spending under control now.

Jasmine Moulton is Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Jasmine is one of our Thought Leaders. For interview requests, click here.


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


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Jasmine Moulton

Jasmine Moulton

Jasmine Moulton is a serial entrepreneur who built and sold two successful companies before the age of 30. She launched her last venture, Atlas Communications – a Toronto-based digital marketing agency – in 2015, at the same time she enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Toronto. She sold that company two years later in a successful acquisition deal with a PR firm from New York City.

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