Med students lobby in Ottawa for student loan relief, affordable housing

ANNA-LILJA DAWSON
Prairies and Northern Bureau Chief

med

SASKATOON (CUP) — Medical students from across Canada have convened in Ottawa for the 10th annual Lobby Day to talk to members of Parliament about pressing health issues in Canadian society.

This year the Canadian Federation of Medical Students — the organization hosting the event — chose to focus on affordable housing and relief of federal student loans for medical students while in residency.

Over 70 students from Canada’s 17 medical schools met with around 64 MPs on Feb. 3 to discuss these issues.

“I expect uniformly positive outcomes. We always receive a very welcome reception from the members of Parliament and the senators,” said Melanie Bechard, CFMS vice-president government affairs. She added that the CFMS hopes to see MPs write letters to ministers, the prime minister and their party leaders advocating on these issues.

“A lot of the time they are very amenable to this and sometimes we’ve even had private member’s bills result from our advocacy efforts and prior Lobby Days,” Bechard said.

Bechard said the issues of student loan relief and affordable housing are country-wide problems.

“I think that they are relevant for all provinces across the country to some degree,” Bechard said. “In terms of homelessness, it’s such a ubiquitous problem across Canada… There’s no province or territory that can say that they don’t struggle in finding safe accommodation for their residents.”

However, Bechard said that students from Quebec schools are likely to focus more on housing than on loan relief because they have different programs than Canada Student Loans.

Jessie Harris, a medical student from the University of Saskatchewan, said recent cutbacks on affordable housing programs will have detrimental health effects on Canadian society and are the root of many social issues that put pressure on health-care systems.

“Frequent users of our emergency rooms — a lot of those have to do with different social issues,” Harris said. “They are repeatedly coming into the ERs and that certainly is a strain on our health-care system.”

Relief of federal student loans is an approach to reinforce the Rural Physician Incentive — a program that pays practicing physicians $5,000 a year — up to a total of $40,000 — for practicing in a rural or remote area.

Another U of S medical student, Jon Herriot, said rural incentives are ineffective because students choose to pay off their loans with a line of credit while they are in residency instead of accumulating interest.

“I think they tried to address the issue of recruitment and retention for physicians in rural areas, their intention was there but because of the differing interest rates between the loan and the line of credit, students have just found a way to pay off their loan quicker and cheaper,” Herriot said.


Graphic: Stephanie Mah