The New Democratic Party and Green Party aimed to differentiate their platforms in the eyes of voters at the Victoria District Debate, held in the SUB’s Vertigo Lounge on Oct. 7. The debate followed the All Candidates Fair, where the UVSS invited federal representatives to meet and greet students. Conservatives declined the invitation, but three of four parties were present for the fair.
Debate participants included incumbent MP Murray Rankin, representing the NDP, and Jo-Ann Roberts, standing for the Green Party. A stuffed animal, named “Teddy Bear Proxy,” observed the debate from Conservative candidate John Rizzuti’s seat. Liberal candidate Cheryl Thomas was also absent, as she had resigned on Sept. 30 because of comments on social media about Muslim and Jewish communities.
UVSS Chairperson Brontë Renwick-Shields moderated the event, intervening when political passion spilled over the time slots. Questions ranged from environmental and social issues, to cost of education, to Indigenous rights.
Roberts opened the floor with a statement about NDP and Green similarities, but explained that they have different environmental platforms. Both Rankin and Roberts plan to tax carbon and invest in renewable technology, but emotions flared at mention of pipelines. Rankin began by criticizing the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, deeming the proposal process “broken.” (The company aims to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline, with construction starting in 2016.) Rankin concluded that any proposal made through such a process would not be approved by the NDP. The crowd roared with applause.
Roberts argued that the problem lies not with a broken proposal, but with the pipeline itself. Rankin grew red in the face and rebutted, asking whether he was clear enough about the NDP’s denial of the project. He then added, “That doesn’t mean we can say categorically that we will absolutely refuse [any pipeline].”
Roberts said she hoped Rankin would be more clear. He answered the next question about stopping tax breaks for extraction companies with a resounding and loud, “yes.”
Roberts and Rankin also promise to recognize major social issues, stating that their parties will immediately address the murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada. They also agreed on implementing all Truth and Reconciliation Commission report recommendations. Both candidates described our current government’s reactions to these issues as “appalling” and “horrible.”
Both parties plan to adopt a Post-Secondary Education Act that would remove student loan interest, increase funding for grants, and create low-income education opportunities. The Green Party plans to eliminate post-secondary tuition altogether. Rankin insisted the NDP’s plan for lowering education’s financial burden is practical. He explained that the party plans to lower the general cost of living to benefit students. Both parties insist on banning unpaid internships and plan to fund post-education work experience programs.
The floor was open to students at the end of the debate. UVSS Director-at-large Brydon Kramer and Director of External Relations Kenya Rogers, both speaking on behalf of the Let’s Get Consensual campaign, asked about implementing sexual violence education in the kindergarten to grade school curriculum. Rankin said the federal government needs to “step up” and strive for such educational grants.
Roberts spoke through tears saying the problem doesn’t end on campus. “I was like you, I was fighting this in university 35 years ago,” she said with shaky voice, “I promise I’m there.” Before proceeding to the next student question, Roberts asked for a Kleenex and Rankin handed her an orange colored tissue. A moment of amusement lightened the room after tough discussion.
The debate ended with anti-Harper closing statements and a mutual willingness to work across parties to end his control. The candidates praised students for bringing post-secondary issues to the attention of federal politics.