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Never mind the promises

Local candidates debate youth and student issues

by Moira Donovan

Halifax federal candidates and DSU moderators. Candidates debated youth and student matters, but don't hold your breath, says Marxist Leninist candidate Allan Bezanson, The only thing that will hold your MP to account is you forcing them.” Photo Moira Donovan
Halifax federal candidates and DSU moderators. Candidates debated youth and student matters, but don't hold your breath, says Marxist Leninist candidate Allan Bezanson, The only thing that will hold your MP to account is you forcing them.” Photo Moira Donovan

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – At a debate on Monday night, candidates for riding of Halifax offered different perspectives on issues affecting youth and students. But all candidates agreed on one thing: regardless of who they put on the ballot, students need to vote.

For some of the students filling the packed room, attending the debate was an opportunity to educate themselves on issues that had been conspicuously absent from the election campaign thus far.

“It seems like they’re missing an entire demographic,” said Matt Wiber, a student at the Nova Scotia Community College.

While the debate offered an occasion for students to listen to candidates, it was just as important that it had the candidates listening back. The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) organized the debate dedicated to student issues because “If we don’t do it, the parties won’t do it,” according to DSU VP External John Hutton.

“Less than 40% of students voted last election, so the parties are geared towards seniors.”

Many of the questions posed in the debate – questions that came directly from students themselves, through an open submission period run by the DSU – focused on familiar issues affecting students: tuition and student debt as well as the need to address rape culture both figured prominently.

All candidates agreed that the high cost of tuition had made university inaccessible.

Conservative candidate Irvine Carvery noted that an important solution was ensuring good jobs for students upon graduation, while incumbent NDP MP Megan Leslie said her party would make post secondary education more accessible through a Post Secondary Education Act that would mandate transfers to the provinces solely for the purpose of post-secondary education.

Liberal hopeful Andy Fillmore said the party’s platform on post secondary education, though not yet unveiled, would include job creation for young people through the Liberal’s promised investment in infrastructure, as well as measures to make student loans more accessible.

Thomas Trappenberg of the Green Party, who is himself a professor at Dalhousie, responded by noting that with provinces continuing to cut funding to universities, nothing short of a far-reaching vision would do, and that the Greens would abolish tuition while eliminating student debt over $10,000.

Other questions touched on areas that affect society more broadly, including the Fair Elections Act and employment equity.

The question of what candidates would do to restore funding for basic science research was perhaps the most popular question submitted, said Hutton.

Candidates were also asked what their party would do to address climate change – the first time that question had come up in local debates, noted Trappenberg, who thanked students for posing the question.

All candidates agreed on the need to take some action, with Carvery advocating responsibility in transitioning away from resource industries that he said fuel the economy, while Trappenberg said his party would end subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

Fillmore repeated the Liberal’s commitment to green investment and said that Trudeau would attend the Paris Climate Conference, but Leslie fired back that without legislated targets for emissions reductions in the provinces, as the NDP promised, such a turnout would be tokenism.

Every election, students are charged with apathy. But the reluctance to vote isn’t coming from the students themselves, said Dalhousie student Caroline Brown.

“I feel like a lot of students may feel intimidated by it because we have been put down by [federal] leaders in the past,” she said, adding that she’s been impressed by how easy student groups have made voter registration and education on campus.

When students are ignored in federal politics, they return the favor, said Hutton. But that doesn’t mean they’re apathetic, and by hosting the debate on campus, “I think we’re turning the tide on that.”

Regardless of who wins, Marxist-Leninist candidate Allan Bezanson reminded the students attending that elected officials will only keep their promises to students if they’re forced to.

“Never mind the promises. The only thing that will hold your MP to account is you forcing them,” he said. “It’s you that has to fight tooth and nail.”

 


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