Duelling war rooms: the Ignatieff RESP plank

The Conservatives’ response, and the Liberals’ rebuttal


So Michael Ignatieff introduced his “learning passport” scheme this morning at Sheridan College. Very soon after, the Conservative campaign released its critique of Ignatieff’s idea. I sent their press release to the Liberal campaign. Won’t you join me as I watch them argue?

The Policy

$1,000 a year ($1,500 for low-income recipients) from the feds into tax-free savings accounts in the four years before a recipient leaves high school. To be used as payment toward college or university tuition.

The Conservative Response

Verbatim from their war room:

How many students will become ineligible for Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants because of Michael Ignatieff’s announcement?

• Did Michael Ignatieff calculate how many students would immediately become ineligible for Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants if today’s announcement is implemented?

• Why did Michael Ignatieff not include details about how this would affect Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants eligibility in his party’s news release or background documents this morning?

• Are the Ignatieff Liberals proposing to change the Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants eligibility rules to ensure no students are adversely affected by today’s announcement? If so, why did they not outline these changes in today’s announcement and what are the costs of those changes?


Today’s announcement could push some students out of eligibility for the Canada Student Loan and Canada Student Grants Programs. Many families are saving for their children’s education with an RESP, and many students work hard in part-time or summer jobs. For Canada Student Loans and Canada Student Grants, students are eligible if they have $1 of “need”.

If Michael Ignatieff proposes that the federal government give each student a $1,000 grant through their RESP for 4 years, will these hard-working students no longer be eligible for our low/middle income student grants or Canada Student Loans?

Canada Student Grants for middle-income students is $100 per month, up to $1,200 per year. Will students who work at summer jobs no longer be eligible because today’s announcement will move them above the eligibility threshold? Michael Ignatieff proposes to have the federal government give them $1,000 per year, but they would lose $1,200 per year from Canada Student Grants.

For low-income students, if they found themselves in the situation above, the harm is even greater. The Low-Income Grant is $250 per month, up to $3,000 per year. Michael Ignatieff’s proposed $1,500 grant for low-income students means they could lose the $3,000 grant.

Giving with one hand, taking with the other. Either the Ignatieff Liberals are hiding the cost of today’s announcement, or there is a massive policy blunder in the centrepiece of their campaign.

The Liberal Response:

Verbatim from their war room:

The Conservatives don’t seem to understand how the grant program they created in 2008 works.

For students with loans, the Learning Passport will allow all or part of that loan to be replaced by our new GRANT – which means same amount of money without having to pay it back.

Students would not lose a single dollar of Canada Student Grants as the Learning Passport would not count against family income for student loans.

Our plan will help students and their families now, not in 5 years.

Filed under:

Duelling war rooms: the Ignatieff RESP plank

  1. Pwned!

  2. Harper Fail

  3. What's the problem? It doesn't count against family income.

    I think it is good that people are looking critically at these campaign promises, especially from the Conservatives and Liberals, as they might conceivable form the government. But, I'm not sure the CPC War Room occupants are able to function in this capacity. Too much time spent lying messes up your brain.

  4. Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

  5. Paul, I'll bow to your wisdom on this, but yes it seemed obvious from the first statement that it would be grant money replacing loan money. Doesn't mean it's a good (or bad) policy, but the lengthy CPC response is off base – and egregiously so as so much anger is loaded into its language.

  6. Irony that the CPC demand hard numbers and complete accounting from the Liberals.

  7. It doesn't have to be true or justified, it just has to be plausible.

  8. You think that NOT providing costing info lands them in contempt? ;-)

  9. I want to apologize to chet and some of the others. Many have noted that your performance of late has suffered, but is it now clear that most of the blame should go to your writers.

  10. As a beneficiary of the RESP programme I'm appreciative – it' already generous[ a 20% topup on your contribution, and you can invest it, if you're so inclined to risk your childs future, or place it in guranteed GICs]
    So, i'm not averse to using a tried policy vehicle – if as been pointed out it makes rational sense.
    However, what's wrong with a tried and true method of ensuring everyone who wants a good education gets one? Make it cheaper to go to school!! ie., get tuition back down to affordable levels. It's simple and it's equitable[ i don't believe it should be "free", as that tends to breed an attitude of entittlement.. Is it affordable? I don't know myself but it's a lot less confusing then our current missmash of tax credits, investment vehicles and sundry programmes.

  11. Feds can't do that. They can fund individual citizens or give tax credits, but tuition is very clearly and entirely provincial jurisdiction. That's why educational assistance is such a confusing mishmash.

  12. So entertaining warroom exchanges aside, I think this is potentially really good policy. There are real advantages to directly funding students, rather than doing it indirectly through transfers to provinces which then transfer money to the Universities.

    For one thing, it is _way_ harder to cut direct to-student transfers than money to Universities. Governments in difficult times can easily cut largely-hidden transfers to Universities, whereas cuts to student grants will be met with marches and protests.

    As another, it lets Universities increase tuition without necessarily hurting accessibility. Forcing tuitions to remain too low and then hoping the Universities can make it up in volume is a guaranteed recipe for stagnation and decay, as several once-mighty UK universities have learned. When each marginal student you're taking in is at a loss, that is eventually going to show up in the quality of the education. I used to be a big fan of keeping tuition charges low as an end in itself, but that was at a time when I really believed that provincial governments (and, indirectly, federal) would reliably fund the institutions to make up the difference.

    Finally, it allows a lot more flexibility. Not everyone needs or wants University, but RESP payments can in principle go to a variety of lifelong learning education options. It sounds like this particular program really only subsidizes traditional University education, which seems like a needless limitation, but it's still a start.

  13. The Conservatives seemed to get a bit of a free ride from the media yesterday with their income splitting. Nothing for single moms, divorced or widowed,. nothing for two worker professionals making about the same each. Designed by or for Charles McVety and the barefoot and pregnant at the kitchen sink, women stay at home Christian crowd?

  14. Oops!

  15. It's difficult to work up the incentive to investigate a promise for 2015. Had he made this promise on any realistic timeframe, there would have been more discussion. Let's see if his next promise is for 2020.

  16. Perhaps the warriors in the CPC war room will avail themselves of the new grant to study policy development and analysis?

  17. No, it's for post-secondary….college or university.

  18. Writers? Programmers.

  19. It's only a new grant if the Liberals get elected, unfortunately.

  20. There is also a notion that putting money in the hands of students (who can then select the school & program they go to) is a powerful driver for improving the efficiency of the post-secondary education system.

  21. It's too long to be plausible.

  22. I thought it was interesting that every single time I read or watched coverage of it, everyone mentioned there are big strings attached and no family will see any assistance for a very long time. Saw one interview on CTV with a stay-at-home mom who was really excited about the "promise" but by the end of the interview quite disappointed/pissed that it is such an empty promise.

  23. They'll probably just use it for beer and popcorn. And more beer.

  24. All other scholarships are counted as income. Now the Liberals want to make a single exception?

    So if one student has $10,000 in scholarships, the other none, they are both considered the same when it comes to student loans? This makes no sense.

    Also, the Liberals never answered part of the question. They talked about loans, but not about "Canada Student Grants". Can't they answer the questions?

  25. Wow, what an angry and nasty post. Thanks.

  26. Our plan will help students and their families now, not in 5 years.

    You have to get elected first, right?

  27. That's good news! I see now I was kinda confused about some of the details. Actually reading the proposal helped :)

  28. But this isn't a scholarship, is it. And as for Canada Student Grants, the answer seemed very clear — this grant into the RESP won't be counted as family income. Period. So what's the issue?

  29. Shorter Dennis – they've picking on my hero Steve again.

  30. Nothing gets by you, Dennis.

  31. Short as always Jan: This is what we can write about people we hate in politics:

    Designed by or for Charles McVety and the barefoot and pregnant at the kitchen sink, women stay at home Christian crowd?

  32. So you admit they were jumping the gun? Thanks. Next.

  33. You consider Informing the public of your campaign policies prior to the election jumping the gun?

  34. That's a good point. And thanks to Ted for pointing out my ignorance as to constitutional responsibilities, it's probably spared me the wrath of MYL.
    I can see the argument against statist solutions that tend to reward mediocrity. However i've lived in jurisdictions that do heavily subsidize post secondary ed and it seems to work fine.[ UK & Germany] An important proviso being that you have to keep entrance standards high as a trade off to avoid some of the mediocrity problem. But this is the age of choice, so i guess i'm offside on this.

  35. Dennis, at the risk of being accused of being drawn to the darkside, I will kind of agree with you on this one. I'll just point out that there is no monopoly on nastiness, and to demonstrate that I haven't drifted too far in to the dark, I will suggest that the Conservative Party is most responsible for the tone of the debate.

    I understand what W.B. is getting at, but I can't help but think back to 1983, when my youngest son was born.

    We decided that our children were more important than material wealth, and my wife became a stay at home mom. We gave up 50% of our gross income to do this; it wasn't easy. I'm not complaining, it was our choice, and we are glad we did it. Income splitting would have been a big help, though.

    I am by no means the kind of person that W.B. describes, and find Charles McVety to be a despicable little man, who would try to impose his values on me.

  36. What a cynical and empty promise. You're welcome.

  37. I do think that wanting to raise a family with one spouse at home is not the same as designing a McVety family. My mom stayed at home and it wasn't to be barefoot and pregnant at the kitchen sink and it certainly had nothing to do with the social conservative Christian crowd. My own wife works from home as a kind of modern compromise on the same issue (she's a writer so it works).

    Staying at home is a legitimate choice for families, especially if you live in regions where there is no alternative childcare (whether day care or other family members). It puts those women in a difficult longterm position since being out of the workforce for so long is seriously detrimental to earning capacity and good jobs post child years, but that is their choice in a free and democratic society.

    There are lots of people who want to keep the mommy war fires burning. Please don't add fuel.

  38. As with Harper's or Layton's promises, I think the "if we get elected" is implied. And understood, by most of us.

  39. Another point in its favour is it can be transferred to another child if the designated one doesn't opt to use it, or even another nominee outside of the immediate family[ bit hazy on that one] as long as you sign up for the right varient of the programme. I believe different family members can contribute too. It's a great programme, with its only real downside being [ as far as i know] that it favours middle class families over poorer ones in the sense that the poor don't have the disposable to contribute. Ignatieff's idea does go some way to address that failing.

  40. He better try retroactive next time…it might fly a little bettter?

  41. First, it's been my experience that the left can level any outrageous accusation at conservatives that they want, yet yell and scream at even the slightest hint that some people fight back.

    You say you care about civil debate, yet you write this:

    find Charles McVety to be a despicable little man, who would try to impose his values on me.

    So you can make these vicious smears, but Conservative can't fight back. Gotchya.

  42. I see your point entirely. But my problem with much of this targeted spending is the parties are invariably not interested in targeting needy groups that might not vote for them in any case. This has always seemed counterintuitive to me – virtue and the pursuit of an equiatable or just society being its own reward.

  43. Since when? lol. Amazing what the same people who yell and scream at Harper for every little thing are willing to excuse from people who they happen to agree with ideologically.

    For those of you who apparently can only mock how one press release was written, and not the other, here is how you do it:

    Our plan would help students and their families now, not in 5 years.


  44. BAM! 'Nother door.

  45. "You have to get elected first, right?"

    Yes indeed. But the inferrence that can be drawn is that the CPC plan will have to wait 5 years at the very least whether they are reelected or not.

  46. I'm saying that when you say it WILL do something, you're jumping the gun. Use the word WOULD. Basic English lesson is needed, I guess.

  47. Oh, thank goodness.

    For a long minute there, I thought Dennis was referring to the CPC war room response. Honestly. I did.

    And I wondered what else would be 'off' in this alternate world I accidentally found myself in.

  48. Well, based on the above, I hope you agree with the above revision to the CPC announcement on their website:

    Original: "To lower the cost of hiring new workers, the Hiring Credit for Small Business will provide a one-time credit of up to $1,000 against the resulting increase in a small employer's EI premiums in 2011."

    Revised: "To lower the cost of hiring new workers, the Hiring Credit for Small Business WOULD provide a one-time credit of up to $1,000 against the resulting increase in a small employer's EI premiums in 2011."


  49. No they're not! Or, to be more precise about it, they are in and outs before even getting to your income tax jacket.

  50. You know, you came up with a good post, but you got cocky with the "next" since you didn't actually get me on a specific point. I would agree with the above revision. Next.

  51. I didn't know you were the arbiter of what constitutes good posts.

    I will remember this going forward. Thanks.

  52. I didn't realize I wasn't allowed to give my opinion on what does and does not constitute a good post.

  53. Matlock refers to 'woulds' and 'wills' in successive iterations of war room spins.

    Several minutes before he posted that, you posted this:

    "I'm saying that when you say it WILL do something, you're jumping the gun. Use the word WOULD. Basic English lesson is needed, I guess. "

    That may be the 'specific point you seek.

    You're welcome.

  54. Jurisdiction can be confusing because it's perfectly ok for the feds to create programs and spend in an area no matter what it's head of responsibility. But they can't regulate it unless it's an area where both levels can have jurisdiction. Since the provincial governments set the school fees the feds can't change that.

  55. I think your goal of creating a stir in the comment sections HAS backfired (not WILL, or WOULD) – how could anybody not already a blind partisan fool fail to see through your pathetic attempts to smear the LIberals at all costs, no matter how much better the Liberal policy and how clearly the Harper Government shows its anger and desperation.

  56. Tell me what exactly does the policy say about the Conservatives attitude toward single mothers?
    And is it designed as a sop to christian voters?

  57. lol. Why in the world are people not allowed to make even the simplest of criticisms against a Liberal press release? Some of you absolutely can't stand being criticized, yet spend 24/7 attacking your political opponents. They may have those kinds of rules in China. Me? I'm glad that this is Canada and all sides get to have a say – despite the efforts of some of you to quash even the slightest of criticisms about a press release. Good God.

  58. Do you know the history behind this odd "in and out"ness?

    I'm asking because every year when I help my one son do his taxes I'm always concerned (closer to freaked out) that I'm doing this step wrong…first attach the slip/declare the income, but then, magically, don't actually include the income on the general form.

  59. Mirror, meet Dennis.

  60. Everyone meet cowardly anonymous troll who can only muster a knee-jerk one-line baseless accusation. lol. Next and next.

  61. No, and I think its more than confusing. We have ins and outs for WSIB or welfare, for example, and they make sense. And is it the full grant or the partial grant? I wish I had time to go back and see if this happened before 2006.

    Then we'd know the Conservatives just can't do ins and outs properly!

  62. The key bit is that the Education Passport grant is offset by the cancellation of the Education Tax Benefit. This is (or was if the Liberals form Government beneficial to the parents because the student could elect to transfer the eligible amount to the parent which would decrease the income tax payable. As most students don't pay income tax (not making enough income during the year) the parent could benefit from the tax break of helping the child through school. The Liberal plan seems to quash this possibility.

    On the political level, all students I talk to (I have two of my own) want a job after they graduate more than they want free beer and popcorn money while they are students. The employee tax credit for small business in the Budget and re-announced by Mr Harper in Regina today sounds much better to me (but what do I know, I am just a voter and a taxpayer).

    Plus one of my kids ( a student) wants to apprentice in one of the 50+ Red Seals trades and will be able to take advantage of the Apprenticeship Incentive and Completion Grants in the Economic Action Plan. This will actually help my student learn a trade and get a JOB, which is way more important to me (and my student) than free student money.

  63. Single mothers are not allowed in Harperland. I think they are hidden somewhere.

  64. "An important proviso being that you have to keep entrance standards high as a trade off to avoid some of the mediocrity problem."

    Seconded. In my experience not only is it a problem that those who have the grades can't necessarily afford to go, but there are many students who can afford to go who, given their grades and ambition (or lack thereof), really ought not to be there.

  65. But you did just fight back, natch.

  66. and that's simply an outrage to too many of you isn't it! lol

  67. It's easy to promise the moon, when you know you'll never have to deliver.

    The CPC actually has to be responsible with their promises.

    So while the teenagers mock the adults ("not in five years…tee hee"), the adults carry on with the difficult business of keeping this complex economy running smoothly.

  68. What exactly in this proposal is 'promising the moon?'
    Separately, if the keeping this complex economy running smoothly is so difficult, how were the Liberals decent at it? Or do we just kind of mirror the US kind of, and it's just a Harper meme for this election? http://tinyurl.com/49omcg5

  69. ….the adults carry on with the difficult business of keeping this complex economy running smoothly.

    ROFL, oh my.

    How about "Don't mess with it?" instead of complicating the tax code with useless deductions meant to social engineer us into enrolling our kids in piano or enrolling our kids in sports or encouraging us to support political parties by bribing us with taxpayer's dollars. How "progressive".

  70. All the more reason to hope they get to use it!

  71. So now you're saying you hate the Chinese?

    Just kiddin', Den! Practicing my Tory smear tactic imitation….

  72. Why won't it be counter as income when all other grants and scholarships ARE counted as income? It makes no sense. Why should two students be considered as equal when one has a big grant and the other doesn't? This is not right.

  73. MEOW! As a single mother and small c conservative, I call BS

  74. Now disagreeing with you is a smear tactic? Wow.

  75. But all students _are_ getting this grant. Seriously, what are you talking about? And what do scholarships have to do with it?

    This is a transfer into all eligible student's RESP. If your next-door neighbour put $1k/yr over 4 years into your kids RESP, it wouldn't count as family income, or taxable income, and your kid could spend it on PSE. Same here. How hard is this to understand? And, for that matter, Canada Student Grants don't count as family income for the purposes of determining eligibiility for such things. So why should this be any different?

    You're not making any sense.

  76. Yet another open ended – no wealth test – entitlement to throw on the big government pyre. Not long ago the LPC said it wanted the increase in corporate taxes to pay down the deficit faster. Now the minute he gets the cash (which is unlikely as the increases will decrease economic activity – even the Ontario liberals know that) they want to squander it on a new entitlement – complete with all of the bureaucracy it’s going to create.

    This is not the liberal party of John manley and frank McKenna.

  77. Now you're just being obtuse.

    For the slow of thinking out there, lemme spell it out:

    CPC conbots like to take things said by Iggy / libs out of context and try to fool people into thinking it means something different for the original intent. Like I did with Denny's China reference. Den is trying to pretend that this is really a Lib thang. That poor tories would NEVER do something like that! Nosirree!

    Coalition coalition coalition! Nyaaa nyaa NYAA na-na!

  78. I'm sure Molson is delighted at this news. Profits are sure to boom!

  79. Free money for every student who votes Liberal/Separatist/NDP party. What could possibly go wrong with that brilliant economic, education promise. Free money!!! Woo-Hoo!!!

  80. Is it only me who is quite sick with all these promises? They might as well promise as heaven, but then there is a month more to go to rob our purses empty before election even comes. I feel like throwing something at the TV monitor every time I hear more promises. Can somebody campaign on spending cuts instead, and please refrain using communist style class warfare.

  81. Yeah i figured that out after coming to Canada. I was impressed at the number of HS kids going to PS here as oppossed to the UK. But, i was informed. Lots of kids drop out after a year or two here – go figure. My info is pretty dated now. Wonder how much it's changed?

  82. It is the inference? I don't get that one. But apparently at least 14 people do who clicked thumbs up on your post. lol

  83. if you "weren't allowed"….we wouldn't see your stupid posts Dennis

  84. seriously Dennis….you need a mirror

  85. Surely, dude, you don't seem too sharp, since I clearly don't post anonymously, nor do I engage in one-liner troll attacks. Geez. Next.

  86. Look at you. You can't stand my presence on here. If it were up to you, I'd probably be in jail. Man.

  87. You're allowed to give your opinion.
    We're allowed to criticize said opinion.

  88. Because Grammar Nazis aren't appreciated no matter who they support.

  89. Odds are, when you hold an opinion, and all those around you hold the opposite opinion, you're the one that's wrong.

  90. Promising the moon would be to be promising to fully fund post-secondary education for whoever can qualify. And given the knock-on benefits of post-secondary education, I'm not even sure that that really "promises the moon" in the classic sense of something undeliverable.

    Given the OECD stat that each additional year of education a population has increases it's GDP by 2%, by adding a single year, overall, to the population of Canada, would give us a GDP rise of approximately 26 billion dollars. Assume a nominal tax rate of 10% (which is probably low, but not all GDP is taxable, etc.) and you're looking at 2.6 billion dollars the government can recoup if it adds even a single year to the overall education level in Canada. In a single year, that is.

    Seeing as the Liberal plan costs half that, with funding for four years, I'm not sure how you can say it's irresponsible.

  91. Because they're both getting the grant? Since everybody gets this thing, it doesn't adjust the playing field at all.

  92. So some of you hate me because you say I'm a "Grammar Nazi?" lol. Where do you people come from? lol

  93. "It's easy to promise the moon, when you know you'll never have to deliver."

    Sounds like a song Harper would sing at a Ottawa gala.

    Anyway here's a (partial) list of Harper's broken promises so you are right chet. Harper WILL say anything to hold power…

  94. Actually, odds are that, when I voice my opinion on boards flooded with vicious critics, and the best they can do is click thumbs up or down, I think I'm on pretty solid ground. lol. Thanks.

  95. I bet the CBC's and Iggy's "red tent don't tell you this!

    Micheal Ignatieff is the torture loving Bush Republican. Read what Jane Krieber Dion's wife has to say about Ignatieff. Iggy flip flops and changes his mind on everything. Michael Ignatieff : untrustworthy, dangerous

    “To justify violence, he must have really given it serious thought. Otherwise, that's very dangerous. What guarantee would there be that he wouldn't change his mind again?” – Terrorism and counter-terrorism scholar Dr. Janine Krieber, Facebook message as reprinted in Toronto Star, 21 November 2009” from NDP site

    “The use of coercive force in a liberal democracy…is regarded as a lesser evil. This particular view of democracy does not prohibit emergency suspensions of rights in times of terror. But it imposes an obligation on government to justify such measures publicly, to submit them to judicial review, and to circumscribe them with sunset clauses so that they do not become permanent.” – Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Political ethics in an age of terror, Princeton University Press, 2004 "

    "…in a situation of extreme necessity, the possibility, even a slight possibility, that it [torture] may reveal some life saving result would almost certainly overwhelm any consideration that it is evil." – Michael Ignatieff, The Gifford Lectures, University of Edinburgh, January 2003

    "…in a situation of extreme necessity, the possibility, even a slight possibility, that it [torture] may reveal some life saving result would almost certainly overwhelm any consideration that it is evil." – Michael Ignatieff, The Gifford Lectures, University of Edinburgh, January 2003

    ..”Following a 2005 lecture at the University of Dublin's Trinity College, Ignatieff excoriated Canadians for trading on Canada's “entirely bogus reputation as peacekeepers” for 40 years and for favouring “hospitals and schools and roads” over international citizenship. “If you are a human rights defender and you want something done to stop [a] massacre, you have to go to the Pentagon, because no one else is serious,” ……..Ignatieff said.” Macleans July 17/09 Martin Patriquin

    The real Michael Igantieff Liberal leader !

  96. The CPC lost this fight – a refreshing change from previous elections when they won every single time.

  97. Agree and the Liberal response on that was good too by focusing on the delay.

  98. Of base is right, but answer me this – My oldest is entering a college program in the fall. If the federal government had deposited $4k into her RESP while she was in high school woulb she be able to use that full amount for her 2 year diploman program? Or would she have to pay some of it back? Or does she have to make her study choice as a grade 9?

  99. Oh dude, well done! I hope they pay you for this!

  100. The Liberal war-room is 2 for 2! They clearly won the education fight (only an idiot thinks this is bad policy) and they clearly won the income splitting fight (Conservatives will provide relief to corporations now but wait 5 years for families)

    The narrative of the campaign "fighter jets/prisons vs. health and education" is a very good one – if the Liberals stick to the script instead of changing strategies every 5 minutes they might actually not get thumped.

    All-in-all….it's nice to see a much more evenly matched campaign this time around!

  101. And when that student does not attend; how do you get money back? I think we need to make sure they pass there finals and get a job; then give the money to pay down their debt. Only a stooge pays for services not yet rendered. Likewise you do not pay for education not received with proof of the end exam results.

  102. Lying; sucking pot; eating Oxy; or just being lazy and doing nothing are all very hard on brain matter production. That is the major problem with elections…too many such people still have the right to vote.

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