Jason Copping is the United Conservative Party candidate in Calgary-Varsity. He is currently a small business owner and university instructor.
The Gauntlet: Why should students vote for you?
Jason Copping: First and foremost, the United Conservatives have a plan to reignite the economy and create jobs. I’ve taught as a sessional at Haskayne [School of Business] for over a decade and I also teach at the University of Lethbridge at the Calgary campus, and talking to many students recently, I hear it’s really difficult to find work. I had one recent graduate from the Schulich School of Engineering who donated to my campaign give me a call. He graduated in 2016 and said he had actually found his first career job in his field in December 2018. He said he was a lucky one, that many of his classmates were still looking for work.
These stories are borne out in the statistics. The youth unemployment rate is 11.6 per cent. There’s over 37,000 youth Albertans who are looking for work. And of all the major cities, Calgary has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Our party has a plan to reignite the economy and create jobs. This includes reducing taxes and eliminating red tape for businesses. These are the job creators. And by reigniting the economy, we can create jobs for students, graduates and all Albertans.
The second reason is about sustainability of public services. The current government has continued to run deficits and the plan for the next four years is to actually get close to $100 billion in debt. And we can’t continue to do this and expect to maintain the public services we all need, including post-secondary education, for the long-term. While this may not be top-of-mind for many young people, if we don’t tackle the fiscal problems now, we’ll end up in a situation where a large amount of expenditures are on debt, not what we need, regardless of the party in power.
Gauntlet: You’ll likely have some similar thoughts here, but what do you think are the biggest issues facing residents of Calgary-Varsity at large, and not just students?
Copping: Talking at the doors, it’s very similar. It’s the economy and jobs. Door-knocking and spending lots of time in the community, I’ve chatted with people who are unemployed or underemployed, people who have been laid off in the downturn and can’t get back to work. They want to get back to work. This is what we’re running for and what it’s all about.
Gauntlet: Back to some student-related topics, the current government has tied post-secondary tuition in Alberta to the rate of inflation. Do you think that this is an appropriate solution for students, and if not, how would you approach post-secondary tuition policy if you were elected?
Copping: This is one of those items where we haven’t announced our policy yet [as of March 25, the day of this interview]. I know that our platform will be released talking about post-secondary in the next few days, so I’d just ask you to stay tuned. I will say that we absolutely recognize that rising costs for post-secondary students can become a barrier for some. I believe that we need to see sustainability and predictability in post-secondary funding. The government should make efforts to reduce costs for Albertans across the board, including on students, to attend school.
When we do announce our policies, we’ll announce them all on our website, which is albertastrongandfree.ca.
Gauntlet: Do you support a lower minimum wage for youth workers?
Copping: First of all, our policy is that we will keep the general minimum wage at $15 per hour But we’re also looking to introduce a youth job creation wage of $13 per hour for workers who are 17 years of age or younger in order to incentivize the creation of first-time jobs for unemployed, dependent teenagers. As I indicated before, youth unemployment has skyrocketed over recent years, disproportionate from the rise of unemployment generally. We want to pay Albertans to work but we recognize that a minimum wage of no job is zero and we want to make sure that young Albertans have the ability to enter the workforce.
Gauntlet: The two largest universities in Alberta are now reaching deferred maintenance costs over $2 billion. Do you think that this needs to be addressed, and if so, how?
Copping: Again, it’s difficult for me to respond to the specifics. I did meet with the Students’ Union, who raised the same issue and said it was important and I definitely understand that. I can say that we are committed to building the infrastructure needed in the province in a timely and transparent matter that takes the politics out of the decision-making, and the U of C would certainly be a priority, particularly from my point of view. But it would be irresponsible for me to make a firm commitment on projects like this during an election campaign. Any candidate from any party that does make such a commitment, you have to look at closely. But generally, we’re supportive of infrastructure that we need.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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