The Selkirk College Students’ Union held an all-candidate forum on Monday afternoon so that candidates in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding could address issues important to students.
Connie Denesiuk from the Liberal party, Richard Cannings from the NDP, and Samantha Troy from the Green party were all in attendance, while Marshall Neufeld from the Conservative party and independent candidate Brian Gray declined to attend.
Candidates answered six questions they’d be given ahead of time on topics ranging from tuition fees, unpaid internships, concerns about the environment and health care, and the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
When it came to tuition, all three candidates agreed that students needed a break.
Cannings mentioned three approaches his party would take to make post-secondary school more affordable.
“We’ll faze out interest on student loans…. We would also invest $250 million into creating 74,000 student grants for the students who really need it the most…. And thirdly … we would target transfers to the province to go directly to post-secondary education, so that places like Selkirk College have access to continuing funding so they can keep tuition low,” he said.
Denesiuk focused on announcements made by Justin Trudeau the morning of the debate.
“We’re putting $750 million into increasing student grant access for low income students. Additionally to that … the government is going to absorb the interest rates for students while they seek a job, get a job and then begin to earn their income,” she said.
Troy said that her party would eliminate tuition altogether.
“The Green party is and has been committed to abolishing post-secondary tuition by 2020 completely. We will be providing debt relief in the form of a $10,000 ceiling until the abolishment of that tuition, and immediate abolishment of tuition for those students whose economic means at this time are completely holding them back,” she said.
The event was also an opportunity for students to pledge to vote.
Selkirk’s students’ union is taking part in the Canadian Federation of Students BC chapter’s Pledge to Vote campaign, which as of the weekend had collected 4,200 of 10,000 pledges.
“We’re not telling students how to vote, we just want them to vote,” said Robin Legere, organizer/services for the student union. “We want to take those 10,000 pledges to the government and say ‘You know what? You need to listen to students. Students have a voice, … we matter and what is important to us needs to be important to you.’ That’s what the pledge is.”
Alice Paradis in her first year of the Classroom & Community Support Worker program at Selkirk, and pledged to vote following the debate.
She says she hasn’t had much chance to discuss the upcoming election with her peers.
“Everyone’s so busy studying…. I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been more talk, but this has been really great. You get to see who’s here, who might be interested in talking more about it,” she said.
Alexander Pite is a second-year student at Selkirk and he also plans to vote.
Asked which issues he was the most concerned about, he said, “Environmental issues, guaranteed income for families and students, reduced tuition for students. My main thing is the environmental problems that we’re facing.”