Science the focus of all-candidates debate Sept. 23

Federal candidates were largely agreeable at the Science and Technology Debate in the Bob Wright Centre on Sept. 23, where represen-tatives from three of the four main political parties answered questions regarding the future of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) fields in Canada.

Jo-Ann Roberts represented the Green Party for the Victoria riding. Tim Kane from the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding represented the Liberal Party, and Murray Rankin, the incumbent Victoria MP, stood for the NDP.

The debate was moderated by Bob McDonald, host of CBC’s radio show Quirks and Quarks. Before the debate began, McDonald confessed to the audience that he had run out and bought a plum-coloured shirt that day specifically for the debate, so as not to accidentally dress in favour of any party’s colours.

After UVSS Director of External Affairs Kenya Rogers gave a short speech about student debt and STEM concerns, she opened the stage for Dr. Aerin Jacob of the Faculty of Post-Graduate Studies. Jacob thanked the three candidates for attending. As she began to explain that candidates from four parties had been invited, she was cut off by raucous laughter and applause from the audience, as the room tacitly acknowledged the pointed absence of any Conservative candidate.

Murray Rankin had fun playing the seventeenth-century scholar. He repeatedly boasted of the NDP bringing “enlightenment” after these “dark Harper years.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks: Rankin compared the NDP to the printing press and Stephen Harper to the handwritten Bible. Although all the candidates seemed dead set against Harper, Rankin proclaimed that he would do “anything short of the criminal law” to bring him down, a line that resonated with the audience.

Common themes were the “war on science,” “muzzled scientists,” restoration of the long-form census, and proposals for a science minister or advisor to the prime minister to develop science policy. The debate was peppered with choruses of “I agree,” as the three candidates seemed to have similar if not identical stances on nearly every topic: all declared that the Conservative government has shortchanged scientists for years, and that funding cuts to science programs have devastated the country; each had ideas about how to make science information more accessible to the Canadian public, such as an online central portal where government science studies would be published.

Things got heated between Kane and Rankin when they entered a spat about their respective parties’ effectiveness at establishing child care. Kane knocked the NDP’s proposed $15 a day childcare plan as “a daydream for those children who are alive today,” and lamented how Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s national childcare program failed to be implemented (due to the NDP taking down his government).

Rankin and Kane proceeded to bicker over whether Martin’s government was taken down or eaten alive by corruption within the party, when Roberts chimed in with a suggestion that they all just work together to bring down PM Harper, to which the audience roared with agreement.

Roberts had a strong focus on co-operation during the debate, saying that she would work with anyone to bring down PM Harper, and that the Green Party would be willing to overlook political party lines for the good of Canada. She appeared eager to answer questions about what the government would do to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions, as that is one of the Green Party’s main focuses.

The candidates present made clear that they believe science and technology to be far more important than the Conservative government has treated them. The ruling party’s failure to even send a candidate projected a clear message that their priorities lie elsewhere.

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