By Cristina Paolozzi, September 10 2021—
This year’s federal election will take place on Sept. 20. As the election is fast approaching, the Gauntlet interviewed the willing candidates from Calgary Confederation — the riding encompassing the University of Calgary — on issues facing students and why your vote matters this fall.
A University of Calgary alumna, Natalie Odd is currently the executive director of the Alberta Environmental Network and is representing the Green Party of Canada this election.
This is Odd’s fourth time running for public office in Calgary Confederation, and with her background in the environmental nonprofit sector, she is passionate about many of the issues of importance to the Green Party — namely environmental issues and human rights issues.
“The reason I’m running is because I was doing and I’m still doing a lot of nonprofit work,” she said. “But I also recognize who the decision makers are — they’re in our municipal, provincial and federal governments. And I realized that, yes, it’s important to work every day with the people in the nonprofit sector pushing for change, but we also have decision makers that care about those same things.”
Odd sees that federally, students can benefit from more mental health supports and also recognizes the hardships placed on students who are bearing the financial burden of attending post-secondary institutions.
Odd said she tries to make it to campus as often as possible to talk about student issues, and is aware of the kinds of pressures faced by students daily.
“There’s a lot of pressure and stress on students coming out of university with $30,000 in debt — and those are just the ones who make it through,” she said.
Odd said that if we are putting such an intense strain on the very group of people responsible for creating new and innovative ideas for the future, they should be properly supported. If elected, the Green Party vows to eliminate tuition for post-secondary institutions like universities and trade schools.
“We need people healthy in their body and mind,” she said. “And to put those sorts of stresses onto students, I think, is very counterproductive.”
Odd also mentioned that many other countries don’t require their students to pay tuition at post-secondary institutions and that this isn’t as radical as some people may think.
“We’re putting billions of dollars into pipelines, imagine if we put that into our universities and our trades as we transform our economy into a low carbon economy?” said Odd. “I feel like we’re really impeding ourselves as a society when we put up all these barriers to students getting an education.”
Odd said that the Green Party is also committed to a guaranteed livable income. Odd describes this as an amount of money that allows people to not worry about living expenses like rent and food, and extends not only to students but to society as a whole.
Odd said that the last time she visited the campus, she was surprised to know that a disproportionate amount of international students rely on the campus food bank over the course of the semester.
“It was really eye-opening for me to find out that one of the main concerns of the Students’ Union was foreign students having access to the food bank,” she said. “Students were worried about not having food to eat, which is just really shocking.”
One of the more obvious platform points of the Green Party is their stance on climate change. This has been a top priority for them for decades, while Odd says that the other parties have taken too long to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis.
Odd plans to work locally with something called Project Drawdown to tackle climate solutions within Calgary Confederation.
“[Project Drawdown] basically shows that we have the climate solutions we need — it is a matter of political will and courage to implement them,” said Odd. “In fact, there is a Drawdown Alberta movement, which is about the most impactful and feasible climate solutions for Alberta.”
However, Odd also mentioned that climate action includes restructuring many elements of society, like energy, job creation and transportation, especially in Calgary.
“We actually need to transform the economy and, speaking to students, what’s really important is that we need to prepare to do that now,” she said. “The jobs that we’re going to need in a low carbon economy are very different than what we have now, and so I think that the government at all levels should be preparing students for that.”
Odd also mentioned that, although oil and gas has been a huge part of the Calgarian economy, many polls show that Albertans recognize climate change as a high priority. Moving forward she hopes to engage with young people about the type of education needed for future jobs.
“The longer we wait to transition, the more costly it’s going to be,” she said. “We need to leverage what we have now and we need to focus on what those careers are and the education we will need.”
One of the other issues Odd was passionate about is the need for electoral reform. She said that, although a boring subject, it is something that is important for people to understand this federal election.
“We need electoral reform so that every vote is represented in the House of Parliament,” she said. “What we have now is a very antiquated electoral system and what it results in is distorted representation. What’s essentially happening is that we’re blocking out new parties, young parties that have some excellent ideas and innovation.”
Odd specifically mentioned that pushing for electoral reform will allow more people to step forward to bring better ideas to the table without the fear of getting lost in the melee of voices.
“And that’s what electoral reform would bring us — it would open up doors to new ideas,” she said. “We would get more brilliant minds running for office if they thought they had a chance to get elected.”
Since Elections Canada has recently made the decision to remove the Vote On Campus stations on post-secondary campuses, Odd believes this is an explicit voting barrier against students and is making sure that she is accessible to young people in her riding to ask her more about the Green Party’s platform and about her own initiatives locally.
“I’ll be giving information about where people can vote,” she said. “It is very unfortunate that there are no polling stations on the campuses as there have been in the past. We’re losing ground on the climate battle — everyday matters so I encourage people to find a way to vote.”