Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visited the University of Sudbury Saturday morning for a campaign stop, criticizing the Liberal government for not doing more to support Laurentian University and promising to immediately remove the interest on federal student loans if elected.

An NDP press release said the party would also forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt, double the amount of federal grants and not require graduates to repay the federal portion of their loans for five years. 

The current federal grace period before repayment must start is six months after a student leaves school.

“In this pandemic, students have been really hard hit. And we want to make sure you know the New Democrats will be there for students,” Singh said, announcing the plan on a terrace at the University of Sudbury.

Singh said the Liberal government has earned $4 billion through student loan interest since taking power in 2015. A report on the Canada Student Loans Program in 2018-2019 cited $2.25 billion in federal interest revenue between 2016 and 2019.

The NDP announced its intention to waive student loan interest and forgive some debt in March of this year, well before the official campaign period began.

Jagmeet Singh promised at a Sudbury, Ont., campaign stop on Aug. 28 to forgive portions of federal student loans and eliminate interest on such financing. (Warren Schlote/CBC)

The 2021 budget passed by the current parliament has already extended a pause on student and apprentice loan interest until March 31, 2023, though the NDP pledge would make that move permanent.

Singh also said Laurentian University and its federated schools were crucial for the north, by helping northern students study closer to home. He said the universities’ current financial crisis might have been avoided if the Trudeau government “would have listened to the people who said, ‘we want to save this university.'”

Competitive race for Sudbury riding

Many pundits cite the federal riding of Sudbury as one to watch this election, as the incumbent MP Paul Lefebvre has chosen not to run again. Vivian Lapointe is replacing him as the Liberal candidate.

Singh is the first federal leader to visit the riding this election. Sudbury NDP candidate Nadia Verrelli spoke first to introduce Singh and described the frustration she and her former Laurentian University colleagues felt when the university began restructuring.

Sudbury, Ont., resident Dan Scott attended the Aug. 28 event in support of Sudbury NDP candidate Nadia Verrelli. He said the NDP will get his support during the 2021 election. (Warren Schlote/CBC)

Verrelli said she did not feel support from the Liberal party as the crisis began, and said NDP MPs forced an emergency debate in the House of Commons to demand action on the issue.

“It was the NDP that attended the S.O.S meetings and heard our stories. It was the NDP that worked with us and for us. And it will be the NDP that will continue to work for this community,” she said.

Voter attends to support former colleague

Dan Scott of Sudbury, who works at Laurentian University, said he feels Verrelli brings a base of knowledge to her politics through her doctorate in political studies. He said he would expect an NDP government to face fewer scandals than the many issues tied to the current Liberal government such as SNC-Lavalin and WE Charity.

“I have to believe that the NDP can do a better job of governing without taking those missteps and having a more honest relationship with Indigenous peoples, not taking them to court instead of giving them the benefits … that they’ve won through previous court battles,” he said.

Election day is September 20, though there are advance poll dates and mail-in options available. Details are on the Elections Canada website.

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