On October 19, the SUO hosted Kelowna candidates in recognition of the upcoming provincial elections. This forum was organized with the intent of asking pre-planned questions about topics significant to UBCO students. These topics included Diversity and Inclusion, Housing Affordability, Tuition and Climate Action. This second part looks at diversity and inclusion and housing affordability. For a full list of the candidate names and their parties, please consult part one.
Diversity and Inclusion
The following question regarding diversity and inclusion was posed to the candidates: “Many UBCO students expressed frustration and anger after a video was released earlier this year showing police brutality toward a UBCO student during a “wellness check”. We have seen other examples of this kind of police behaviour toward people of colour. If elected, how would you address this issue? And what would you do to ensure students feel safe and protected?”
Merrifield replied to this question by saying that institutions should be held to account at all times. Merrifield stated that the RCMP needs to be supported with more social workers on duty at all times who respond to calls with the officers. Poon narrated her personal experiences with the RCMP and how they would not help her in difficult situations due to assumptions about her race. For this reason, she wants to create community safety officers similar to those in Indigenous communities. She also stated that money should be diverted from police and directed to social, community safety, and psychiatric workers.
Similar to Merrifield and Poon, Stewart stated that it is important that mental health workers are invested in so that they may work with the RCMP in order to prevent such instances from occurring again. Hawes wants to look at modernizing the police act if elected. However, she said the most powerful way that we can make people feel safe is by increasing representation of diversity. The more BIPOC we have in decision making roles and in government, the more likely we are to be comfortable with diversity.
Finally, candidates Janmaat and Truch acknowledged that as white men, they do not have the experiences of BIPOC and women, so they cannot speak to these issues with any sense of authority. Yet, Janmaat said that he would be happy to be an ally and work with individuals who require aid. Truch hoped to address these issues by restarting the police act because it is stalled in the legislature. This act would look at how the government funds police and social services.
The second question for this topic is as follows: “In November of 2019, the government passed legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How will your government ensure that these rights are upheld? How can we balance the need for infrastructure projects with the rights of first nations?”
Merrifield approached this question stating that UNDRIP has not been implemented properly. She believed the solution is increasing the level of consultation and reconciliation, and assuring that all projects and initiatives are inclusionary as to respect Indigenous peoples and rights. Poon explained that as settlers we cannot insert our interests upon Indigenous communities. We need to negotiate on their terms and meet them at the table like the leaders that they are.
Janmaat emphasized the importance of reconciliation and working with Indigenous peoples as partners to build relationships of trust. This means that a candidate cannot build their own timeline and move ahead with only their own interests in mind—trust is of utmost importance. Similarly, Truch acknowledged that the government needs to work with Indigenous peoples and programs and move away from the colonial system. Most importantly, the government needs to ensure that each community is well supported in achieving what they feel is most important. Stewart believed that there is a disconnect between First Nations and the province. He said it is important to reach agreements with First Nations and make economic certainty something that would benefit all. It is also important to make certain the legislature fits the criteria for UNDRIP.
Finally, Hawes stated that it is important to prioritize decisions that respect the rights of Indigenous peoples. Moving forward, creating long term agreements with First Nations that respect their rights for self-determination and investing in preserving Indigenous languages are two of many extremely important areas of reconciliation.
It is very important that the elected candidates address serious issues of RCMP brutality towards BIPOC and vulnerable individuals, and uphold and recognize the importance of UNDRIP. It is about time that systematic discrimination prevalent in institutions like the RCMP is addressed and replaced with safer and more efficient alternatives; this is one way of ensuring a more diverse and inclusionary society.
Housing affordability is also an important topic for students. Thus, the SUO posed the following question: “In a survey the Students’ Union conducted last year, 53% of our members stated that they experienced financial hardship due to the cost of housing. What will your government do to support affordable housing for students?”
Janmaat stated he wishes to implement a doubling of the BC access grant - a fund that helps students who struggle with financial burdens. In contrast, Poon detailed how Kelowna’s problem with affordable housing is caused by the city's focus on creating suburban housing. This does not reflect what students require and the easiest way to know what students need is by consulting them. She stated that it is important that candidates talk to student organizations and bring their issues of affordability to the government.
In contrast, Stewart believed it is more important to create an affordability project to upend the way of getting housing stock into the marketplace. Merrifield also spoke on this by saying that competing with the general housing market drives up the price of student housing. Her solution is to not compete with the general market but supplement the general market.
Hawes stance on this matter was that more housing supply needs to be built to increase affordability. This includes increasing student housing on campus. She also stressed the importance of freezing rent and renters rebates which are all things that are being done to bring down housing prices. Similarly, Truch also supports building new supply but specifically in enhancing the “missing middle” which is extending support for co-op housing.
Diversity and inclusion and housing affordability are all essential aspects to ensure a more equal and just society. Each Kelowna candidate had a unique and different response to these issues which stresses the importance of voting for someone who will value our interests and morals and those of our peers. General voting day in BC is October 24, so remember to vote!