KW candidates gather on campus to debate student issues

With only two weeks until the provincial election, all MPP candidates in the Kitchener&ndash;Waterloo riding gathered in the SLC for a debate on student issues hosted by Feds and <em>Imprint</em>. The main topics of debate were OSAP and the 30 per cent tuition grant, two-way GO service to KW, youth unemployment, and tuition rates.

All candidates aside from Liberal Jamie Burton were critical of the tuition rebate. Catherine Fife, NDP and current KW MPP called the Liberal-introduced grant &ldquo;an advertising scheme.&rdquo; Fife also said the debate would be &ldquo;a reality check&rdquo; for Burton.

Fife&rsquo;s reasons for fighting against the rebate were about access. Both mature and part-time students are not eligible for the grant, which is available to students for four years after they graduate high school&nbsp; &mdash; creating access barriers to those who take a gap year after high school. Burton responded by saying none of the post-secondary students she has spoken to have expressed concern. She added that a gap year is a personal choice.

&ldquo;The Green Party will never try to buy your vote,&rdquo; said Stacey Danckert, Green candidate, in response to the discussion about tuition rate promises.

&ldquo;The quality discussion is crucial, but you have to remember that when you follow the funding you follow the real priorities of a government,&rdquo; said Fife in response to a question about education quality. She said Ontario has the lowest post-secondary funding in Canada based on information from Statistics Canada.

&ldquo;The conservatives are going to fire our educators and the NDP are saying they&rsquo;re committed to education but that is untrue,&rdquo; said Burton, based on the five demands the NDP made in exchange for support on the 2013 budget, which did not include tuition or student housing as a priority. &ldquo;Do you trust that they would if they didn&rsquo;t when they were [sic]?&rdquo; said Burton.

All candidates agreed that two-way, all-day GO train service in KW is essential and each said they would work towards it if elected. The Liberals have recently promised the service, however as Fife and PC candidate Tracey Weiler pointed out, they also promised it back in 2009 and that resulted only in morning and evening service.

&ldquo;The Liberals have not lived up to their promises &hellip; on transit,&rdquo; said Weiler.

A lot of the conversation came down to money &mdash; how each party will pay for their promises. Danckert said the Green&rsquo;s plan is to merge the Catholic and public school boards, thus saving millions of dollars which can be reinvested into post-secondary education. She also proposed gas and congestion taxes to pay for the two-way GO service. The NDP plan a one per cent increase to corporate tax rates to pay for their transit plan.

In terms of youth unemployment, Burton cited the success of the Liberal&rsquo;s Youth Jobs Strategy and Fife agreed, reminding students of how much NDP pushed for its implementation. Weiler cited the PC&rsquo;s recently released Million Jobs Plan, which has come under fire this week for errors in the math of how many jobs will actually be created. Danckert said they will provide small businesses with tax credits to hire more students and recent grads as well as entrepreneurial funding for students.

Around 100 students and community members attended the debate. All candidates except Weiler were present at a debate on environmental issues at Laurier earlier this week. Coverage can be found on Voting takes place June 12.


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