‘Insulting’: Alliance of B.C. Students spokesperson on Wilkinson’s student loans comments

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is in hot water again, this time for his comments on the NDP government’s decision to forgive interest on student loans.

Wilkinson said interest-free loans might encourage students to “get carried away” with debt and not have a reason to pay it back.

But Alliance of B.C. Students chairperson Noah Berson called the notion that students don’t have the foresight to take care of their finances “insulting.”

“Students are folks who are capable of forethought. We’re going to get our education, we’re investing in our future. This isn’t the kind of thing we take upon lightly,” said Berson.

“Mr. Wilkinson referenced a student he talked to with $80,000 in debt, and it surprised me that the minister of advanced education, at one time, didn’t say: ‘This is a student with $80,000 in debt — let’s help them out.’ He said: ‘This is a student with $80,000 in debt — they’ve wasted their money.’”

Berson said there are plenty of checks in place to encourage students to pay back loans without interest, like maintaining a good credit rating.

“Your credit rating will go very poor if you’re not paying back your student loans. It’s going to impact your ability to get credit cards, your ability to get a car loan, to put a down payment on a house so this idea that interest rates are the only way we get students to pay back loans is a little insulting,” said Berson.

He said that extra money for interest can now go towards helping students start their lives post-graduation.

Wilkinson was most recently in the hot seat for comments he made Friday, saying that renting is a wacky, enjoyable time of life and a rite of passage.

Berson said comments like that are tough to hear.

“It’s kind of hard to paint a picture that’s not out of touch hearing these things, though, saying these things — that renting is a fun rite of passage and students don’t have the ability to have foresight to know that student loans are going to have to be paid back,” said Berson.

Berson said he thinks the NDP government has made good strides in working towards affordability in B.C. — and he believes Wilkinson, as Opposition leader, can play an important part in that if he’s well informed.

“Let’s sit down at the table and let’s talk about what actually matters to students, what actually matters to young folks who are going through that not-so-wacky period in their lives,” he added.

As part of Budget 2019, the NDP government forgave all interest on existing and future student loans in the province.

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