TORONTO — Scrapping interest on student loans as a prelude to a tuition-free world is among measures a New Democrat government would take if elected, the party's leader promised on Tuesday in a pitch to younger voters reminiscent of the Liberals' successful motif in the last election.
Speaking at a campaign event in what promises to be the hotly contested riding of Toronto-Danforth, Jagmeet Singh pressed his "new deal" for young people once captivated by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's "sunny ways" pitch in 2015.
"People want to dream big," Singh said. "For Mr. Trudeau, it was a playbook. For me, it's who I am."
Taking direct aim at his Liberal counterpart, the NDP leader accused the Trudeau government of squandering the goodwill engendered by his last campaign message. Trudeau, he said, had done little for younger Canadians, preferring instead to help the already better off.
"(Trudeau) charged $3 billion on the backs of students, profited off the backs of student debt," Singh said. "At the same time, last year alone, Mr. Trudeau and his government waived $6 billion in corporate loans."
Over the last four years, Singh said, a hypocritical Trudeau left a trail of broken hopes and rising cynicism among young people by talking a good game at them, but failing to deliver.
The New Democrat platform calls for immediately scrapping interest on student debt and replacing repayable loans with grants. The ultimate goal would be free tuition, Singh said.
The cost to the federal treasury of going interest-free, according to the parliamentary budget office, would be about $200 million in the first year, ramping up to more than $500 million annually.
Those measures, together with bringing in universal pharmacare, expanding existing dental care programs, and capping cellphone and internet fees would leave young people $1,200 better off each year, the party estimates.
Another promised measure, Singh said, would see subsidies to renters worth $5,000 a year for those "who need a little extra help" in keeping a roof over their heads.
In 2015, the Liberals narrowly edged out the NDP to take Toronto-Danforth, leaving the other parties far in their dust. This contest promises to be a tough tussle between incumbent Julie Dabrusin and the NDP's Min Sook Lee.
Asked about New Democrats' falling victim to strategic voting aimed at keeping out the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer, Singh was dismissive of the Liberal and Tory leaders.
"Conservatives and Liberals don't fight for people, they work for the rich," Singh said. "I don't work for the rich. I don't work for the powerful. I work for people."
Trudeau's message this time around is to be afraid of the Conservatives and settle for less, Singh said, adding voters don't have to feel trapped by that choice.
Ultimately, Singh cautioned against voting out of fear, promising that electing more New Democrats on Oct. 21 will surely lead to change.
"You don't have to settle for less; you don't have to settle for a prime minister who is arguing about who's worse for Canada," Singh said. "We can actually have a leader who wants what's best for Canada."
It just takes dreaming bigger, Singh assured them.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2019.
The Canadian Press