For only the fourth time in the 40-year history of the New Democratic Party of Manitoba, members from across the province are actively engaged in the process of choosing a new leader. The question that is most important to students is not only “What can these leaders do for us?” but also “Will anything really change?” Perhaps the students of this institution who think progressively and complain endlessly should think of taking advantage of this opportunity to have a say in who will be the next premier of our province.
Of the three candidates running for the party’s top job and the office of premier, only two have broached this subject. Strange, since a vast majority of the “little people” that those political candidates depend on and thank in victory speeches for making it all possible are either students or recent grads.
While Greg Selinger refuses to commit to reinstating the tuition freeze, he has promised to allow students to take advantage of tax credits already available to graduates. Under Selinger’s plan, instead of waiting for graduation, students can take advantage of the credit while still in school. While this sounds great in a stump speech, the reality is that most students are not required to pay enough taxes to take advantage of this credit. The credit is allowable over 10 years. That means that if you had $20,000 of tuition you would need to owe $2,000 in provincial taxes every year for 10 years to get the full advantage. This is highly unlikely for most students except for those in professional faculties.
Steve Ashton is also in favour of this tax credit, but has no plans to make it available to current students. His plan is to reinstate the tuition freeze to allow students, regardless of income, benefit from the reduced cost of their education.
The most questionable policy comes from Andrew Swan. In fact, Swan has not actually talked in anything more than vague platitudes regarding post-secondary education. Swan’s website gives a vague idea of his “vision” for post-secondary students promising to make “post-secondary education as affordable as possible while ensuring our colleges and universities have the necessary funding to offer the best educational experience possible.” Translation: Let them eat cake. This lack of concern over rising tuitions and ridiculous fee structures is concerning. Perhaps, however, it is to be expected as Swan is from the ”new” New Democratic school of thought just like his mentor Gary Doer. Swan has the same affable demeanor as Doer; unfortunately he also shares the same crush as Doer for the business community.
While Doer has not publicly endorsed Swan, even those who sit opposite the government have been calling Swan the hand-picked successor to the NDP throne. This fact did not seem to help Swan at the first delegate selection meeting for the ridings of Assiniboia, Tuxedo and Charleswood. After this first meeting of party members in the selection process Selinger took a large lead.
Judging by the latest delegate counts, the rank and file is determined to make their own decisions and not depend on big name endorsements to sway their votes. It seems that progressive thinking students have not one tough choice to make, but two. Do they choose more of the same pragmatic attitudes that have allowed the party to create a legacy of electability, or do they choose a candidate who will bring a more progressive approach and allow the party to create a legacy of fairness and accessibility for all?
How do we decide on who will be the education friendly candidate? Well, reading articles that focus on student specific issues would be a good first step, but doing a little research on your own will be essential. If you are a member of the party, get out to the delegate selection meetings and vote (or better yet stand as a delegate). Contact the campaigns and let them know your issues and what you think of their plans (or lack thereof). It is up to us to advocate for ourselves, no one else will if we do not care to do it on our own.
Stephen Milner is a mature student studying sociology at the U of M.