The UNB SRC hosted Premier Brian Gallant and Minister Ed Doherty September 20 for the first event of what is being called the Connect UNBSJ series.
Gallant spoke to a room of about 30 students, faculty, and media in the Whitebone lounge. No announcements were made at the event which was intended to provide an open dialogue between students and government around the topic of retaining young people in New Brunswick.
“I think that connect UNBSJ is allowing students to have the different avenues to provide people with a place to voice their opinion in a way that they can be heard.” says Kjeld Conyers-Steede, who hosted the event as part of his work as the Students’ Representative Council’s vice president external.
Premier defends cuts to the education tax credit
The Baron spoke with Premier Gallant regarding the recent changes to student aid in the province, specifically the elimination of the education tax credits.
“We were essentially investing in a tax credit that was not set out to do what we wanted it to do,” said Gallant about the decision to eliminate the popular program.
“The tax credits were not for students. The vast majority of students (would have) only been able to access the tax credit once they graduated and actually had a job and make enough money to pay taxes. It’s not a student program, unfortunately, it was pegged as one.”
As a replacement for the tax credit the government has implemented a Youth Employment Fund which provides grants to employers to hire unemployed or underemployed 18-29 year olds in hopes that they will gain work experience and develop workplace skills.
The positions require a minimum of 30 hours per week for 6 months which is covered by the grant. In addition the employer may top up the minimum wage beyond what is funded by the government.
“The best way to keep students in the province and bring them back, is a job,” says Gallant, saying that the focus of the program is on retention.
“I’d rather have the youth employment fund that is going to give (young people) experience in the workplace right here in the province than give them a tax credit that they are only going to be able to use once they get a job and are able to make enough money to pay taxes.”
SRC hopes to improve turnout to future events
With such a high profile speaker on campus the SRC was somewhat disappointed with the turnout at the event.
“I’m glad that some people took the opportunity to come out and hear what the premier had to say,” says Coyers Steede. “Im a little disappointed in the numbers but it’s hit or miss. The people who aren’t here really missed out on an opportunity to have the premier’s ear.”
Steede doesn’t think the problem is student apathy, but lack of awareness about how to get involved.
“I don’t think that students don’t care. I just don’t think students have been given the opportunity to have a voice. I feel that people have issues and problems with the government but they don’t know how to effectively get those ideas across.”
This is the first of many events planned in the Connect UNBSJ series and Steede encourages more students to attend and voice their concerns. The next instalment in the series is Friday September 23 with PCNB leadership hopeful and former Saint John Mayor meeting with students at the campus pub at 1pm.