On the defensive for opposing interest-free student loans, Andrew Wilkinson pretends he never opposed them in the first place

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For the second time in a week, BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is walking back comments described by people as “out of touch” and “insulting.”

Wilkinson had said Tuesday that interest-free student loans are “not the right way to go about” helping students, citing his concern that “students may get a little carried away” with debt. Those comments generated an online backlash reminiscent of his description of renting as “a wacky time.”

But instead of amending or retracting his comments, Wilkinson is now denying he made them in the first place.

Responding to an article headlined “B.C. Liberal leader says students should pay interest on loans,” Wilkinson tweeted:

“This story is just plain wrong. I’m not calling for the re-instatement of interest on student loans. I am suggesting that interest free student loans should be supported with credit counselling. Any suggestion otherwise is a complete falsehood.” (Tweet)

But despite Wilkinson’s suggestion that he is conditionally supportive of the interest-free loans, the article is accurate: Wilkinson has consistently said that students should pay interest on their loans.

On Tuesday, reporters asked Wilkinson about his earlier comments criticizing interest-free loans. It was an opportunity to clarify his position. But without any suggestion that he supported removing loan interest, he said:

“Student loans are a very important part of our educational system. The concern with the NDP taking the interest off them completely is that students in their early years may get a little carried away with how much they’re borrowing. We want to make sure students have access to financing. But, there’s got to be a right way to go about it, and that’s probably not the right way to go about it. (Audio)

Back on February 20th, Wilkinson said interest-free loans were “not a happy life plan”:

“The second thing about student loan interest, is I think we have to be a little bit concerned that any loan that carries no interest encourages people to go into a lot of debt. And students may get carried away with debt. When I was the Minister responsible for the universities and colleges, I came across students who had run up $80,000 in debt. And they had no way to get out of it, and they were only 23 years old. So that’s the concern we always have with interest-free loans, is why wouldn’t you just go and borrow as much as you possibly can? And then why would you ever pay it back? Think about that. If you’re given $80,000 and there’s no interest, why would you ever pay it back? You just wait for it to fade away with inflation, thirty years later you might pay it back. So these are the kinds of things they have done to make people happy with gifts, but the gifts are not a happy life plan.” (Audio)

And in February 2017, then-Advanced Education Minister Wilkinson rejected calls from student groups for interest-free student loans because they would let students “borrow willy-nilly”:

“The only problem with zero per cent interest rates is there’s no incentive to pay it back. What we do not want to do is have students think they can borrow willy-nilly and then have to pay the piper downstream.” (Vancouver Sun)

BC NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon:

“For the second time in a week, Andrew Wilkinson is attempting to walk back incredibly out of touch comments. These aren’t accidental statements. They show us that he doesn’t understand the everyday challenges that renters, students, and regular British Columbians face. British Columbians deserve a Premier who understands them and works to make their lives better and more affordable. Andrew Wilkinson is proving that he just doesn’t get it.”