Election candidates tried to deliver higher education on the campaign trail Tuesday morning.
Candidates from the four main parties in Nanaimo-Ladysmith gathered at Vancouver Island University for a wide-ranging all-candidates’ meeting hosted by the economics department. The debate was focused on the economy, but there was related discussion, too, about the environment, foreign policy and education.
With mainly students in the audience, candidates talked about how their parties would encourage education attainment.
Sheila Malcolmson, NDP candidate, said student debt has risen 30 per cent over the last 10 years.
“You can be sure that a New Democrat government would have different spending priorities than the Conservatives have,” she said. “An NDP government would work with the provinces toward inclusive, accessible, affordable education. We need it and that’s a spending priority.”
She said her party would begin immediately phasing out interest on student loans. Interest would be cut in half by 2019 and eliminated completely within seven years.
Malcolmson said the NDP would spend $250 million on additional student loan grants, beginning with those most in need. She said a Post-Secondary Education Act would restore and strengthen the federal government’s role.
Tim Tessier, Liberal candidate, talked about some newly released aspects of his party’s platform, including increases to the Canada Student Grant program and a lower threshold for eligibility, and $750 million in non-repayable grant assistance.
“We’ll also make our student-loan system so you don’t start paying until you’re making at least $25,000 a year and in the interim, your interest is paid,” Tessier said. “These are things that will happen now.”
Green Party candidate Paul Manly repeated his party’s pledge to abolish tuition fees by 2020.
“An educated population is important for building an economy that is stable in its steady state, rather than boom and bust and based on commodity prices for raw products,” he said.
The Greens plan to eliminate interest on federal student loans and expand bursary and debt-forgiveness programs.
“We would do this funding through tax shifting – taxing the things that we don’t want, like pollution, and reducing taxes on things that we do want, like labour,” Manly said.
Mark MacDonald, Conservative candidate, said he’s astounded by promises of free education.
“Education is not free and even if you were to get these unbelievable promises, you’re going to pay for it sooner or later. Somebody’s going to pay for it,” he said.
MacDonald said there needs to be more forethought into the sort of jobs that will be available to graduates, and said people have to think of education as an investment.
“And paying for it yourself gives you extra appreciation for what you’ve got. You’ve done it yourself,” he said.
The format of the all-candidates meeting didn’t intend for a lot of back-and-forth debate, though there was some. In a question about the environment, MacDonald said, “Canada’s eco guidelines are the strongest in the world and we are used as an example … We’ve managed to do a good balance between the environment and the economy.”
Malcolmson replied that she had “a different memory of the Conservative record.”
The parties also differed on balanced budgets.
“The Liberals tax and spend and the NDP tax and tax and spend and spend,” MacDonald said.
Tessier responded, taking aim at the Conservatives’ record on deficits.
“Their balanced budget was a shell game. You’d have to pay $5 down on the waterfront to watch and figure out under what shell,” he said. “We’re being honest and we’re being criticized, but we’re investing in Canada.”
An all-candidates’ meeting on social justice issues is scheduled for Tuesday (Oct. 6) at 7 p.m. at the Beban Park Social Centre. That meeting is co-hosted by the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women and the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.
To read about last night’s all-candidates’ meeting on aboriginal issues, please click here.