Proposal aimed at young voters

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While there are no guarantees, a political leader who makes a pitch to young people – the largest group of untapped voters – is making a wise move.

In the current federal Liberal leadership campaign, many think Justin Trudeau offers the greatest appeal to youth and young adults. But Marc Garneau is addressing a prime issue: the debt faced by post-secondary students.

The Montreal MP is suggesting changing some of the rules. University students currently, following graduation, have to start paying off their government-backed loans within six months. Garneau would allow an indefinite grace period, with repayment to start only after the grad finds a decent-paying job – in the $40,000 range at least.

In a related item adding to his vision of a more knowledge-based economy, Garneau has also proposed eliminating payroll taxes for employers who hire young workers.

If youth are paying attention – and they notoriously represent the largest demographic not bothering to vote – they will undoubtedly be interested.

On the other hand, we have to remember any measure involving the public purse and allowing a break for one group has to be made up by other taxpayers. So Garneau should also be trying to convince the rest of the population that such an incentive for those seeking higher education will benefit Canada in general, and more specifically its economy.

But another factor dogs this proposal. Education is a provincial responsibility. To ensure he doesn’t step on any toes, Garneau has said he would allow provinces to opt out of any provision for a grace period for students.

What might Nova Scotia’s approach be to this as-yet hypothetical? For starters, considering this province has the highest tuition rates in the country, any break for students facing debt should be considered carefully. But also, such a grace period might help slow the exodus of young people who have no choice but head west for employment to start paying off that huge debt.

Geographic location: Canada, Nova Scotia

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