On the night of Thursday, Oct. 2, candidates running for the federal election in the Calgary Confederation riding participated in a debate at the University of Calgary.
The debate was hosted by the Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association and was moderated by Sadiya Nazir, SU vice president external, and Marcela Lopes, the vice president of the Graduate Students’ Association. Candidates were asked for their stances on student aid, academic funding, climate change and international students — read over the debate recap below and remember to vote on Oct. 21.
The five candidates that attended the debate included incumbent Conservative candidate Len Webber, Green Party candidate Natalie Odd, Liberal candidate Jordan Stein, Marxist-Leninist candidate Kevan Hunter and People’s Party candidate Colin Korol. Rhinoceros candidate Jamie Bockmuehl, NDP candidate Gurcharan Singh Sidhu and Libertarian Party candidate Tim Moen were not in attendance.
Question one focused on student aid and affordability. If elected, how would the candidate and their party aim to ensure students are financially supported throughout their degree?
Odd started off the responses with saying that, unlike the other parties, the Green Party will eliminate post-secondary tuition entirely.
“We believe that education is a public good, and students should not have to pay for it,” Odd said. She said that the Green Party believes strongly in eliminating barriers to accessing education, and not putting students in debt is the best solution to ensuring students don’t have to worry about financing their degree.
Stein believes that education should be “affordable and accessible,” targeting scholarships and bursaries towards those who need it most. She recounted how Trudeau has promised to give students a two-year, interest-free grace period before being required to start paying back student loans. Repayment, even after the two years, would be contingent on graduates making at least $35,000 annually, up from the current $25,000 threshold.
Hunter framed his response in terms of outlook. “We think that education can be free — universal, free, post-secondary education,” he said, and that it’s a matter of changing the perspective on post-secondary education to be less consumer-centric. “Students are being treated as if they are customers,” he continued, claiming that the government does not pull their fair share when it comes to alleviating tuition.
Korol said that the People’s Party would make post-secondary education more affordable through “simple tax measures like raising the personal [tax] exemption.” He also noted the importance of improving the skilled workers in our country and ensuring that international students find a place in our universities and jobs when they are done.
Webber ended the student aid segment by questioning how the other parties plan to make free tuition happen, adding that it would come from people’s taxes.
“A solution would be to, again, talk about the economy and get our economy revitalized again so that more money is ending up in our government coffers” to then direct funds into education, Webber said.
Question two focused on the candidates’ platforms regarding funding, innovation and research for post-secondary institutions. How will candidates support Canada’s researchers?
Stein started off with saying that “the Liberals have really put their money where their mouth is with this one. They’ve given four billion dollars for science, that includes 1.5 billion dollars for labs and facilities — including the new library here at U of C.” She also added that the Liberals have invested in skills retraining, innovative technologies, SAIT’s Green Building Technologies program and more.
Hunter started with saying that research is a “tremendous asset to society.” Universities are “doing all sorts of amazing research that are then going to enrich private interests, and those private interests need to pay for it,” was the brunt of his response.
Korol spoke about how research investment is a way to fix the economy.
“The way to fix that is to create new industries and to encourage more entrepreneurship and research,” he said. “I think the government has an absolute reason to find research that will lead to new industries and expand our economy.”
Webber offered his suggestions next.
“Research and innovation absolutely, that’s vital in this country, and we need to continue to do that,” he said. “But the question is, how do we pay for it?”
Webber recounted the current state of the struggling economy, and how if we are to donate anything to research and innovation, we have to fix our economy first.
“It’s interesting to hear,” Odd responded, “that Mr. Webber thinks that research and innovation is important because under Conservatives, Harper cut that funding to research grants. So that doesn’t make much sense to me. Liberals put some money back, but not all of it, and didn’t put it back into student-aligned research” — a response that earned a round of applause from the audience.
How would your party plan to address climate change was the third question of the night. The topic felt particularly relevant given the recent spike in student walkouts demanding climate change action from the government. Close to 200 students at the U of C walked out on Sept. 27 to City Hall.
Hunter spoke to climate change first, stating that before the crisis can be truly addressed, the government needs to reform the economy to meet the needs of the people, and “not maximum profit for a select few.”
“We can build a different economy,” Hunter continued, “and I think the workers in Alberta and the whole country want a new direction.”
Korol said that before we can think of radically transforming our economy, we first need to “keep money and revenue coming into the province to develop these new technologies.” He added that throwing our economy “under the bus” for green energies without a strong economy going for Alberta is not realistic or possible.
Webber accused other parties of wanting to “shut down our whole industry, shut down every aspect of resources and go into our government coffers to eliminate the greenhouse gasses.”
Webber went on to explain how we’re better off investing in green technologies and research instead of shutting down oil sands that emit a very small amount of greenhouse gasses to begin with.
“We are running out of time to do something about it,” Odd said. “There are very hard targets that we have to meet that our Conservative and Liberal governments have blown through.
“We need to stop burning fossil fuels,” Odd declared. “There’s no way around it.”
She continued by saying that, as a wealthy province, we have the capability to do that, and it’s something that is long overdue.
Stein talked about the dichotomy between fossil fuels and green energy, saying that we don’t have to choose between the two of them.
“The Liberals have re-engineered the economy to make people pay for pollution. This cannot be understated,” she said.
She continued by saying the government has created a goal to become a net-zero country by 2050 with five-year milestones to “actually get us there.”
The moderators detailed some of the struggles faced by international students — higher tuition and inability to work more than 20 hours due to visa restrictions. What will the parties do to ensure that international students are correctly supported during and after their time in post-secondary institutions?
Korol started the responses by answering, “International students are very important to our economy. Knowing what they suffer through financially, going through school and their living conditions, their inability to work, I think they all need to be addressed.” He ended by saying that Canada has a role in helping students, especially international students, find work and be financially supported, which garnered applause.
Webber agreed “100 per cent” with what Korol had to say, reasserting they are essential to the economy.
“They can share so much with students around Canada […] Coming here to learn English, to learn all aspects of Canadian life in order to bring that back home to share that with their families. What that does is develop relationships between Canadians and foreign students who can then go on down the road to network […] to share our economy and foreign trade with each other.”
Odd recalled how she “met with the Students’ Association members of SAIT and U of C over their concern for foreign students,” and how these students have already identified ways of solving problems around international students.
“How great they are for our culture — academic sharing and exchange is fantastic,” she said. “Harper put in legislation that made it very difficult for foreign students to get assistance with legal and immigration issues — that should be fixed. Why are we waiting around for that?”
Stein also added that she met with Students’ Association members, which augmented her personal experience of being married to an immigrant and being aware of the importance of international student legislation.
“We really need someone to be pushing for more support in the university to help them navigate the immigration process,” she said. “The Liberals have eliminated fees for immigrants that are applying with all of the qualifications that they need.”
Hunter offered a rebuttal.
“We should immediately eliminate all financial incentives for the university to have international students,” he said. “They shouldn’t be used as a way to bring more revenue into a university which is desperate for increased revenue.”
He added that, judging by Odd and Stein’s responses, students already have the answers. The issue, he says, is that they all need to “speak in their own name.”
The questions provided by the moderators were relevant and all handled well by the candidates. While there was some underlying banter between the Green, Liberal and especially Conservative candidates, fired shots were returned for those who stepped out of line.
After thanking everyone for attending the session, Webber started by saying how important it is to repeat that our economy needs revitalizing, to “bring it back to the way it was” after being “decimated by the Liberal government, Justin Trudeau, we need to reverse everything he has done there.” He reiterated that the other parties do not present fiscal responsibility or a feasible financial plan, and how they want to “tax you to death.”
Webber continued by saying that “with those monies coming in we could do so much more. Again, bring down your cost of education. I am frustrated how these Green Party individuals talk about the environment — it is important — but the hypocrisy that is occurring is startling. They will travel around the world in their jet engines and in their airplanes […] yet they want to stop all that. Enjoy riding your bicycles around, if that’s what you like in the future.” This remark was followed by booing from the crowd and occasional shouts of “Shame!” between some applause.
Natalie Odd’s closing remarks started on a remark about how it’s important for MPs to be respectful in the House of Commons as to better focus on the problems at hand.
Odd’s main argument revolved around the need to reform an outdated tax system in order to fund renewable energy sources.
“It hasn’t been reformed in 40–50 years,” she added. “Between the Liberals and Conservatives, it’s a battle of tax tweaks.” Getting rid of loopholes for the wealth, off-shore tax havens and cutting unfair write-offs on corporations allows for “billions and billions” to flow out of Canada that could go towards social services. Odd stated that transforming the economy is key to the future of Alberta and that we have to move forward instead of looking back.
Jordan Stein’s closing remarks focused on paying attention to the people in this election. “I start every single conversation with the same question: ‘What’s important for you?’ I ask this because politics isn’t just about policies or parties or platforms, it’s about people.”
Stein said that we need to take climate change seriously, but also need to rejuvenate the oil industry -—feeling forced to choose between these two things is a “false political dichotomy.” The Liberals have done this, Stein says, and doing it in a way that isn’t leaving Alberta behind. The UN has backed climate policies that support major banks and industries pulling out of the fossil fuel industry Stein says, so “there’s no more business as usual in this province. We can’t afford to bury our heads in the oil sands […] we need to trigger and inspire the global globalization that we need to reach our climate targets.”
Kevan Hunter used his closing statement to speak to Indigenous issues and reconciliation: “Reconciliation means respecting Indigenous rights,” he started to an applause. “We stand with the Indigenous people who are defenders of the land, who are stepping up to defend Mother Earth. We stand with them when we say no consent means no pipeline.”
He added they are not against a pipeline per se, but that they were taking issue with how the government doesn’t listen enough to the people. “Everything is a calculation: what’s going to get us elected?” The government needs to instill a trust in its people so the people can trust the government, he said, to serve the people and not just serving private interests.
Colin Korol began by saying how he got involved in politics for “freedom and fairness” because the government has reached too far into our lives, “disempowered people from knowing how to spend.” A government should put the people first, not catering to a specific group as Conservatives and Liberals are Korol says.
“We need to level the playing field,” Korol said, through taxation and social programs. “We can’t continue to print money. We have to be responsible. We have to figure out a way to make things more efficient and affordable for everybody.”
After the Debate
After the debate, Webber added that climate change is a serious issue and emphasized investment in green technologies, but did not agree with the Liberals.
“If the Trudeau Liberals are re-elected in this country,” he said, “I would predict further devastation in the confidence to invest here in this country. It is vital that people get out and ensure that the Trudeau Liberals do not get re-elected.”
Korol emphasized immigration, which he hoped would be brought up in the debate. “The biggest thing is that they don’t respect our borders anymore. We’re not a country, we’re part of a global community now, and I don’t agree with that. When you have a house, you have a door, and you have the right to lock and unlock it.”
Stein spoke about the divisive nature of the current political climate in Canada and its effect on climate change policies. “The electoral stage for the country has two extreme sides, and I think the reality is if we’re going to go forward, we can’t ignore the fact that Alberta is a resource-based economy and we can’t leave Alberta behind.”
Odd emphasized how much needs to change because previous parties have been bogged down in the past. “Because we’ve had the two same parties in power forever, it’s really important to hear other viewpoints. We need to move forward on so many issues — Indigenous relationships, poverty, health, universal child care, climate action. We haven’t been making strides in those areas […] I’d like to see some more urgency.”
Hunter expressed he wasn’t fond of the format, citing how it’s hard to go deeply into an issue in 45 seconds and wished there was a different approach to these debates. He also said that the debate didn’t speak much to Canada’s role internationally, such as issues with the U.S. and Trump, or how our troops are a part of a NATO deployment in Latvia.
In conclusion, October 21st is election day — make sure to read up on the candidates’ platforms and remember to participate in democracy and cast your vote. In the coming days, the Gauntlet will be releasing interviews of all federal candidates in the Calgary Confederation riding with detailed descriptions of the candidates’ platforms.