In recognition of the provincial election, the SUO hosted a Kelowna Candidate forum on October 19 with the intent of asking candidates pre-planned questions about topics specifically relevant to UBCO students. This election is very important for university students to participate in as many of the candidates' decisions will directly impact BC post-secondary students. The four overarching topics of the forum included Tuition and Funding, Housing Affordability, Diversity and Inclusion, and Climate Action. This article, which is part one of a two-part series, focuses on Climate Action and Tuition.
The forum invited six candidates from the Liberal Party, the Green Party, and the NDP. The Kelowna-West Candidates included: Spring Hawes, BC NDP; Ben Stewart, BC Liberal Party; Peter A. Truch, BC Green Party. The Kelowna-Lake Country Candidate was John Janmaat, BC Green Party. In addition, the Kelowna-Mission Candidates were: Renee Merrifield, BC Liberal Party; and Amanda Poon, BC Green Party.
The questions chosen from the forum are the ones I deem to be most relevant to UBCO students and for which candidates had the most detailed answers. SUO’s Taylor Dotto, VP External, got the ball rolling by posing the first question of the forum pertaining to climate action: “Climate action in the past has placed the responsibility for environmental sustainability on the consumer, yet the vast majority of carbon emissions are caused by large corporations. How will your government work with industries to reduce carbon emissions?”
Hawes answered this question believing that consumer responsibility is diverting attention away from the actual pollutant - the industry. To combat this, the NDP’s Green BC plan sets the target of net zero emissions by 2050. Hawes hopes to achieve this target by investing in carbon capture technology to sequester carbon and produce fewer emissions, develop greener buildings, and increase active transportation. However, Truch refuted Hawes by saying that statistics show that 65% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation within the Central Okanagan, not big industries. The Greens will commit to being carbon neutral by 2045 and are going to have interim targets for 2025 and 2030 to keep the government on track.
Incumbent Stewart of the BC Liberals describes how he wants to enforce that the carbon tax is revenue-neutral as opposed to now in which it is doubled and going into general revenue. Furthermore, he is also looking into continuing to create jobs and investing in innovative technology to make carbon neutrality an achievable goal. Stewart’s colleague Merrifield takes an alternative route in discussing climate action by discussing retrofitting older housing stock. This has the potential of lowering emissions and greenhouse gases by almost 40%. Merrifield explained how the liberals will look into offering incentives to retrofit older housing stock to guarantee a greener Kelowna.
Poon answered this question by highlighting the immediate concerns of many Kelowna residents which is how climate change impacts wildfires and floods in this area. Poon supports climate tax as well as ending fossil fuel subsidies. Similar to Truch, Poon believes Transportation is largely an issue and hopes to advocate for active transportation and further investment in transportation in Kelowna. The latter is not only a step towards positive climate action, but it also creates better transportation opportunities for students who require public transport to sustain themselves.
Finally, UBCO economics professor Janmaat took a conciliatory stance by stating that his party supports good policies regardless of the party that creates them. This means that Janmaat will be willing to work with both NDP and Liberals and others in assuring good climate action. In addition, he would like to end subsidies, transition to a carbon-neutral economy, and stop the use of fossil fuels and the money the government is putting into them.
Climate action is a significant topic to discuss as it will impact youth such as students directly in the near future. Youth will be forced to live with the threat of climate change impacting their health and surroundings. Therefore, this is a topic that must be brought to light in these elections, and we must select a candidate that will take this issue seriously.
Another serious topic among students is tuition, thus the following question was posed by the SUO: “Over the last thirty years, tuition fees have increased, while government investments in our public post-secondary institutions have declined. The average UBC Okanagan student will graduate with more than $10,000 in debt, with 20% graduating with over $30,000+. The resulting increase in student loan debt has resulted in young people delaying important life milestones such as getting married, purchasing a home, and having children. If elected, how would you approach the issue of rising tuition costs and student loan debt?”
Stewart began by stressing the importance of creating opportunities for students through apprenticeships and co-op so that students can pay back loans easily and do not end up incurring additional debt. Students need the opportunity to be able to raise money to pay for university expenses with enough to put aside to save. Merrifield believes that the BC liberals plan of creating paid positions like co-ops opportunities and apprenticeships will help students obtain better quality and higher earning careers out of university.
In comparison and true to the NDP platform, Hawes talked about how she would personally love to see free education as some families cannot access university education. Education can work as an equalizer, but this is not the case with our current university system. The ability to access daycare for students with children is also an expense that must be looked into. Picking up where Hawes left off, Truch also supports free education. He explained that as long as you have the grades, you can educate yourself with costs up to about $1000. However, he rationalized, students are still burdened with many more expenses beyond just tuition. Truch believes that this is an issue that deserves greater attention.
Poon, a current student herself, spoke out against an online environment in which students are subsidizing all the costs like wifi and basic amenities. Poon will be looking into this if elected and how to further alleviate financial burdens. Janmaat also echoed the benefits of the European education model. He explained that Europeans have access to living allowances in school and even get paid by the government to be a registered student. Again, Janmaat stressed how education has the ability to be an equalizer in creating social mobility. In today's economy, people with a stronger education are more likely to receive better and higher paying jobs; but obtaining an education depends on wealth. Education should be an accessible right that is not based on the function of family wealth.
The general voting day for the BC provincial elections is scheduled to take place on Saturday, October 24. This election is an opportunity for students to vote for a candidate that best represents their values and interests - so be sure to vote!