CORNER BROOK — Nick Mercer was one of the few people who attended Bill Barry’s Wednesday rally who wasn’t a supporter or a member of the media.
Mercer went to the event — where Barry announced his intention to seek the Progressive Conservative party leadership — to ask a question.
Mercer is vice-president external of the Grenfell Campus Student Union and wanted to know what Barry’s plan was for post-secondary education. He did get to query Barry when the floor was opened.
Barry told Mercer and everyone else in the room that he would do what he could to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador continued to have the lowest tuition fees in Canada.
“I wouldn’t be a part of anything that would suggest students pay more,” Barry said in reply to Mercer’s question. “We have got to have a really competitive environment, so kids can get an education here that’s better and less expensive than anywhere else in the country.”
Mercer said that should be the stance of anyone seeking the Tory leadership.
“Any potential leadership candidate should follow through with the Progressive Conservative election promises of continuing the tuition freeze and introducing a full grants program in the province,” said Mercer.
Barry, who did not mention grants, said it is crucial to keep low tuition rates so, not only will the province be able to keep its own students home to study, but it will also make Newfoundland and Labrador more attractive for students from outside the province to come here to pursue their post-secondary education.
Mercer said government should not only freeze tuition, but steadily reduce the fees.
“In our most recent survey across the province, we found that 84 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians agreed there should be a reduction in tuition fees to a point where fees are entirely eliminated,” said Mercer.
Barry didn’t say that, but did make reference to addressing the problem of young people finishing their education with crippling debts.
“We take kids and send them to school and bankrupt them on the front end by the amount of money it costs to have an education,” Barry said. “Then, when they get out, they have no job or a mediocre job or a job that has nothing to do with what they were educated for.”
Barry said he likes the idea of turning young people on to potential careers, especially in fields that will be needed in Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming years, before they get to the point of deciding what post-secondary education they want to pursue. If that is not done, he said the province’s young people will leave to find work in their fields and people from outside the province will come to do the work that is here.
“We need to be able to do it ourselves,” said Barry. “That’s about planning and somebody has to drive an agenda that says, ‘wake up Newfoundland.’”
Mercer said he is all for removing any impediments in education, but said it still comes down to cutting the costs associated with it.
“In order to ensure all students go on to a higher eduction, we need to make certain we have the most accessible system in the country,” said Mercer. “If there are still barriers to education, our youth aren’t going to choose to pursue higher education.”