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Auditor General reviewing federal government's handling of student loans program – CBC.ca

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Canada’s auditor general is examining how the government manages billions of dollars in the Canada Student Loans program, and whether it’s helping students be smarter about their financial decisions, newly disclosed documents show.

The audit, expected by April, will look at how efficiently two departments involved in the program — Employment and Social Development Canada, and the Canada Revenue Agency — have managed “risks to the public treasury” in doling out cash to students.

Another item in the audit will be the departments’ “collection activities of student loans,” and a third line of inquiry will assess how well the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has worked to improve students’ financial literacy.

Audit underway since May 2019

While the auditor general’s report won’t be out for weeks, high-level details of the audit are in a briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The document prepared for the top civil servant at Employment and Social Development Canada notes that work on the audit has been underway since May 2019.

The auditor general’s office generally doesn’t comment on reviews until they become public and declined to discuss this one, calling it “premature” to do so.

Likewise, ESDC said in a statement it wasn’t “at liberty to disclose information pertaining to an ongoing audit,” while the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada listed its efforts, including resources offered to classroom teachers and financial-aid offices, when asked for any data on how well the agency has performed.

$17 billion in outstanding loans

Outstanding federal student loans total about $17 billion, and the federal government regularly gives up on collecting some of them — because a person who owes the money files for bankruptcy, the debt passes a six-year legal limit on collections or the debtor can’t be found.

Instruction in financial literacy needs to happen long before students arrive at colleges and universities, but it’s not the sole solution for helping those in debt, said Trina James, national treasurer for the Canadian Federation of Students.

She said she hopes the next federal budget will shift spending to reduce education costs directly.

“When we’re looking at why a lot of students are defaulting on loans, it’s not because they’re not able to manage their money, it’s mainly because a lot of the costs associated to accessing post-secondary education continue to rise,” James said, citing the cost of textbooks and living expenses.

New rules

New rules kicked in Nov. 1, 2019, that the Liberals hope will ease some of that burden, including a six-month, interest-free grace period on repaying loans after graduation and a drop in interest rates. And as of Jan. 1, the government allows those in arrears to spread out interest payments, which ESDC said in a statement should reduce debt write-offs.

The department cautioned that “it is too early to assess the impact of these initiatives,” but noted officials collected $195.7 million from debtors last fiscal year compared to $192.2 million in the preceding 12 months.

Adam Brown, board chair for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (a rival to the Canadian Federation of Students in representing post-secondary students), said the program has improved in recent years to help students repay loans, but suggested a deeper look at other ideas like extending the interest-free grace period, ensuring students have solid finances before being asked to repay their loans and targeted help to parents who are in school.

“Some of those things are going to make the program and make collections a little more complicated for the federal government, but at the end of the day, those are very, very worthwhile changes that are going to make repaying those loans in itself a lot easier for Canadians,” Brown said.

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Designer Virgil Abloh remembered at Fashion Awards

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Designers and celebrities paid tribute to Virgil Abloh at the Fashion Awards in London on Monday, where the late Louis Vuitton and Off-White creative force was honoured as a leader of change within the industry.

Abloh, the American-born son of Ghanaian immigrants, who became fashion’s highest-profile Black designer, died on Sunday https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/louis-vuitton-designer-virgil-abloh-dies-2021-11-28 following a two-year battle with a rare form of cancer.

The 41-year-old, who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, had been menswear artistic director at luxury label Louis Vuitton since March 2018.

“Genius, disruptor … (he) will be missed tremendously by all,” veteran designer Tommy Hilfiger said on the red carpet. “He inspired designers as well as the public.”

Designer and television personality Tan France called Abloh “incredible and a visionary … (who) has done the most beautiful work.”

Abloh, who founded label Off-White, was known for mixing streetwear with high-end suits and gowns while at Vuitton. His influences included graffiti art and hip hop.

“Everyone here is going to be talking about Virgil, everyone here has been impacted by his brilliance,” actor Gabrielle Union said.

At the awards, where Abloh’s photo was projected on stage, the designer was among 15 individuals and brands named leaders of change for their actions in the past year helping the environment, people and creativity.

Others on the list included Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, and Kim Jones, artistic director for Fendi womenswear and couture as well as menswear designer at Dior. Jones was also named designer of the year at the awards.

Michele also won the trailblazer award, while Hilfiger received the outstanding achievement award.

“I’m absolutely grateful, appreciative, humbled by it, but happy to be here and happy to still keep the business rolling,” Hilfiger, 70, said.

Demi Moore, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Dua Lipa were among the celebrity guests attending the event, a fundraiser for British Fashion Council charities.

 

(Reporting by Hanna Rantala and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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Bank of Canada to work with Indigenous groups on reconciliation

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The Bank of Canada will work with Indigenous groups to understand the wounds caused by decades of discrimination and determine how reconciliation can create a more inclusive and prosperous economy for all, Governor Tiff Macklem said on Monday.

Macklem, opening a symposium on Indigenous economies, said Canadians could work to correct some of the consequences of those “ugly periods.”

Ottawa forcibly removed thousands of Indigenous children from their communities and put them in residential schools in an effort to strip them of their language and culture, a practice that continues to scar families and individuals.

“The Bank of Canada will be working with a broad spectrum of Indigenous groups to set out what reconciliation means for what we do,” Macklem said.

“Together, we’ll define what reconciliation means for the work of the Bank of Canada — toward a more inclusive and prosperous economy for everyone,” he said.

Canada‘s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the residential school system “cultural genocide” in 2015, as it set out 94 “calls to action” to try to restore Canada‘s relationship with its Indigenous people, including economic reconciliation.

“We can’t go back and change what’s happened. But we can try to correct some of the consequences,” said Macklem, adding that it is the central bank’s job to create conditions for opportunity for all Canadians.

“Taking concrete steps toward economic reconciliation is our responsibility too. And it’s incumbent upon us to take the time to do this well,” said Macklem.

 

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Canada’s Trans Mountain still ‘days away’ from restarting pipeline

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Canada‘s Trans Mountain said on Monday it was “still days away” from restarting the key oil pipeline at a reduced capacity as heavy rains continue to impede restoration efforts.

The pipeline, owned by the Canadian government, ships 300,000 barrels a day of crude and refined products from Alberta to the Pacific Coast. It was temporarily shut down as heavy rains and flooding caused widespread disruption in parts of British Columbia.

The operator said assessments of the impacts from the latest storm are being undertaken with a focus on the Coldwater and Coquihalla regions.

Work was interrupted at some sites on Sunday due to high water accumulation or lack of access, the company added.

The company on Friday had said it was working toward restarting the oil pipeline at a reduced capacity this week.

 

(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel and Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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