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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., on March 29, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., on March 29, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberal 'learning passport' offers $1,000 a year in postsecondary aid Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff announced a new $1-billion education program Tuesday aimed at helping high school students, especially those from low-income families, get to college or university.

The "Canadian Learning Passport" will offer $4,000 tax-free grants to every high school student who chooses to go to university, college or CEGEP, according to a news release given to reporters covering the Ignatieff campaign.

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And $6,000 - or $1,500 a year for four years - will be provided to high school students from low-income families.

"This is at the heart of the Liberal vision," Mr. Ignatieff said at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. "We can do this because we aren't going to give the corporations a tax break."

The Liberal plan will not require families to provide matching funds to get the money. Instead, it is to be provided through Registered Education Savings Plans.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said he was skeptical of the Liberal pledge because it did nothing to address the cost of tuition.

"The key thing you have to do with education is get the costs down and hold those costs from rising - because if tuition goes up by $1,000 at the same time you are receiving the $1,000, you are no further ahead," Mr. Layton said in Kitchener, Ont.

"Our approach is to try to keep education affordable and to take that action now. And also to make sure that the grants are going to those who are most in need, because there are a lot of people who can't go to university or college now because their families simply can't afford it."

Mr. Ignatieff's first major policy commitment of the election campaign is part of the party's Canadian Learning Strategy. Liberals say it is "the single largest annual investment in non-repayable federal student assistance in Canadian history."

No "elaborate bureaucracy" would be required to launch the program, Mr. Ignatieff said, as it would be run through the existing RESP Mr. Ignatieff hopes - should the Liberals win the election - to launch the grants by September, 2012.

He would include the program in the first Liberal budget.

The money will be available for every family, not just upper-middle-class families that already take advantage of the RESP. It replaces two non-refundable tax credits: the textbook credit and education tax credit.

There are about one million high school students in Canada. If their parents open an RESP, a Liberal government would contribute $1,000 a year when the beneficiary is between the ages of 14 and 17.

The grant money, which would be on top of existing assistance programs for students, would then be paid out in each year of university or college. If students opt not to pursue postsecondary education, no money is paid out. The Learning Passport would not be transferable.

Liberals would pay for the $1-billion-a-year program by rolling back planned cuts to corporate taxes.

With a report from Gloria Galloway in Kitchener, Ont.

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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