2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Calgary-Varsity candidate Stephanie McLean talks tuition cuts, provincial politics and government funding

By Fabian Mayer, April 29 2015 —

Stephanie McLean is the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in Calgary-Varsity for Alberta’s upcoming provincial election. We sat down with her to talk about how student issues are shaping the political landscape this election. Polls open May 5.

The Gauntlet: How’s the campaign going so far?

Stephanie McLean: There’s so much support. It’s a matter of getting enough manpower during the day to get all the sign requests out and organize our volunteers. We have so many people coming in to volunteer that it’s almost a problem to organize them. It’s overwhelming.

Why should Calgary-Varsity voters choose you and your party on May 5?

There are a number of reasons. We’re the party of principles. The things the NDP stands for we’ve stood for since the inception of the party. We advocate very strongly for post-secondary students and post-secondary education.

Whenever there have been cuts in the history of this province we’ve always been the loudest voice for students and students’ unions. We’re the friend of unions and we find it important to support students’ unions and faculty union members as well. The majority of faculty and staff at the university are unionized. They need a strong voice in the legislature and we provide that.

Our policy with post-secondary education is that we would immediately stop the planned cuts to post-secondary education and turn back the clock on many of the cuts that have been done.

The 7.2 per cent cut [in 2013] has been detrimental to post-secondary institutions. The University of Calgary had to cut 19 programs as a result. Calgary turns away more qualified students than anywhere else. Alberta is losing its talent to other provinces because the institutions can’t fund enough programs and professors to meet the demand out there. And educated students are the future.

The government has said they want to reduce post-secondary institutions’ reliance on government funding. What should the funding model be for post-secondary?

The NDP position is and always has been that education should be publicly funded and publicly delivered. I think that very succinctly answers the question. There are certain aspects of our social fabric that should be a priority. That’s education at all levels, health care and our budget. The cuts are horrendous and they keep coming.

There’s nothing left to cut, so I don’t know where they expect institutions to find the funding. I imagine they expect big corporations to provide it. This undermines the quality of education that students can expect to receive because if institutions have to cater to the desires of large corporations then they’re going to pump out students desirable to those large corporations as opposed to students in the arts. Because that doesn’t necessarily directly benefit big corporations, so that’s why we see a lot of the humanities being cut.

I have an undergraduate degree in philosophy and it’s my favourite degree. It gave me the benefit of a well-rounded arts education and that’s the first to go when we’re being funded by big corporate interests.

The threat is still on the table that the cap will be lifted. That’s a huge problem. We’ve been strongly advocating against this. We believe there should not only be a cap on tuition but that there should also be a cap on fees. Market modifier fees are detrimental to students. They’re really unregulated and can seemingly be added to anything in any amount. The burden is being put back on students.

We’re strongly in favour of a solid cap on both fees and tuition, putting that cap at a reasonable level and ensuring that our public post-secondary institutions are receiving adequate public funding to meet their needs. Alberta has some of the worst post-secondary participation rates in the country.

Do you view that as a problem and if so how should it be addressed?

That’s absolutely a problem. Education is very expensive. For example, the U of C law school has the second highest tuition in the country next to the University of Toronto. That’s extremely prohibitive for students. When they’re faced with the option of going to work in our unpredictable oil and gas industry where they can make good money for a short period of time versus going into post-secondary education, many students will choose the former. Or they’ll leave the province because they can get better support and pay more reasonable amounts of tuition elsewhere. It’s a problem because educated societies are generally better functioning societies. Even if we have people with Bachelor of Arts degrees working in the oil field, society is better for it.

This riding has never gone NDP. How do you like your chances this spring?

They’re fantastic. I have known for quite some time that Calgary-Varsity is an NDP riding. It’s meant to be NDP. It’s very much like old Strathcona in Edmonton. There are professors, there are students and there are people directly aligned with NDP policy. It’s meant to be NDP, but there’s never been the organization or a strong candidate in Calgary-Varsity. I believe I am that strong candidate. The work that we’ve done in the area over the past four months has been extremely prosperous.

There are people coming in saying, “I’m traditionally Liberal. I’ve always volunteered with the Liberal party, but I’m voting NDP.” We get the same story with Conservatives, with Wildrose. They’ve been waiting for us to be a strong option and we finally are.

Edited for clarity and brevity

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