KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As we gradually emerge from a global pandemic, we also find ourselves in the midst of a crucial provincial election. A return to normalcy is still distant for students and young people, and even ‘normal’ was hard for my generation. With the highest tuition in the country, an ongoing housing crisis, and a minimum wage that is nowhere near livable,students in Nova Scotia are facing a return to campus involving many more challenges than just transitioning from online classes. Students understand the gravity of this election — and the opportunity it holds to address the many issues we are facing coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia already had the highest tuition rates in the country, and then chose to raise tuition twice during the pandemic. For most students, seasonal and entry-level employment are critical to financing their education and living costs. The pandemic has meant losing many of these positions and a loss of housing security especially for those reliant on on-campus housing, forcing students to rely on COVID relief programs and student loans. Although Nova Scotia has a debt forgiveness program, it punishes those who cannot finish their degree within five years, do not finish their program, or choose to study in other provinces.
Since the start of the pandemic, international students have had to deal with these challenges while being excluded from most of the provincial or federal supports available to domestic students. Yet our post-secondary institutions rely on international students paying incredibly high differential fees to keep them afloat, on average charging international students three times what domestic students pay.
In addition to not receiving financial support, international students are also excluded from provincial healthcare for their first year and have faced challenges accessing COVID testing and vaccines. Due to the constant uncertainty regarding quarantine rules and housing availability, many international students spent the past school year at home, disconnected from community and social support systems.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined systemic injustices in our society and over the past year, Indigenous and Black-led movements have pushed back against racism and colonialism. These injustices are neither new phenomena nor are they in the distant past for Nova Scotia. As of 2021, Canada has only fulfilled eight of the ninety four Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. In order to move forward with true reconciliation, Nova Scotia must fulfill all TRC Calls to Action under provincial jurisdiction. In addition to this, the provincial budget, which currently allocates over $151.1 million to policing, could be invested instead in Black and Indigenous community-led initiatives.
Through the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia’s Vote for the Future campaign, students are putting forward a vision for a sustainable and just COVID recovery.
This vision includes a commitment to accessible post-secondary education for all students and meeting students’ immediate needs by setting a livable minimum wage and addressing the housing crisis. It also means committing to a just and livable future by fulfilling the TRC 94 Calls to Action, redirecting policing funding towards community-led initiatives, and committing to a just transition away from fossil fuels.
The road to recovery is paved with difficult decisions. Young people and students make up nearly one-tenth of the Nova Scotia population, with over 55,000 full-time students at post-secondary institutions across the province. Students can help make our ‘back to normal’ a better future for all Nova Scotians by showing up this election to Vote for the Future.
Check out the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia website with information on how to vote, the issues that matter to students, and the four parties’ responses to a questionnaire.
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Young people must take their civic rights and responsibilities very seriously.