In the lead up to the 2015 federal elections, the Manitoban requested interviews with each of the candidates for MP in the Winnipeg South riding, home to the University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus. Three out of the four candidates in the riding were interviewed by the Manitoban: Liberal party candidate Terry Duguid, Green party candidate Adam Smith, and NDP candidate Brianne Goertzen.
Conservative candidate Gordon Giesbrecht was the only candidate in the riding who did not agree to an interview. The Manitoban did not receive response to email and phone call requests to the Conservative campaign office.
Each of the candidates who were interviewed were asked the same standardized questions, in the same order. The questions were not distributed to the candidates prior to the interviews.
Manitoban: What are your priorities and goals in government, if elected?
Smith, Green: Well, a specific one having to do with the university is that tuition is getting out of control. And honestly, the whole way our university system works is we already pay heavy tax subsidies for a good post-secondary education, but what happens, actually, is it’s often the lowest-income people that get priced out of that anyway. So we’re subsiding most of the cost, but not quite enough to help the poorest people, which means they’re often trapped in situations beyond their control and have trouble being able to actualize their full potential.
We would like to, by 2020, completely do away with tuition in the same way that Germany, Finland – a lot of the most successful northern European countries – have in job training and post-secondary education, in order to level that playing field, in order to have as educated a population as possible. And they’ve kind of proven that it works from a funding point of view. It doesn’t break the bank and the benefits are really worth it. Another one I quite like out of the policies is that we have a carbon fee and dividend system.
Basically, each party is sort of talking about climate change, but people aren’t really putting their foot down. The NDP have put forward a cap-and-trade policy, which is kind of the most solid platform out of the three main parties, but the cap-and-trade system is extremely open to corruption. It’s basically the right to pollute by pollution tokens, or sell carbon amounts back and forth, so that if you don’t cut down your carbon, you can buy from somebody else who did cut down their carbon. But you wind up with these weird conflicts of interest where there is a business that produces a basically unsellable product, except it produces a lot of poisonous after-effects, like it has really bad consequences for the environment, so they get rid of that, and that’s what their business is: it’s creating a poison and then cleaning that up. You create conflicts of interest.
Well, our plan is that you simply add a carbon fee when it’s taken out of the ground – right from the oil producers, right at the site. We’re thinking about $50 a tonne, and it would be passed onto consumers as any consumption tax and oil tax is, but the fee taken from the base, instead of being put into general revenue, will be sent out immediately to all Canadians in the form of a dividend cheque. This dividend cheque will then be equal for all Canadians, so even though the lower income Canadians spend more of their income on consumable goods and would be hit harder by the carbon tax, they will receive an equal amount to the guy who bought a yacht, a private jet. We will be equalizing that and creating an incentive for both people and businesses to reduce carbon usage.
Goertzen, NDP: One of my big priorities is to implement the national child care strategy that we put forward. I have a child, and childcare is very hard to find, even in a province such as Manitoba. With the second lowest rates of child care, we just don’t have enough spaces, and the NDP is the only party that’s putting forward a concrete plan. A $15 a day maximum and the creation of a million spaces – this is unheard of in the past, where both the Conservatives and Liberals have promised child care spaces and have yet to deliver on that.
That’s one of my big priorities, as well as ensuring health care funding transfers do take place, because I believe our health care system, if you’ve ever experienced an emergency room wait, is absolutely horrendous. This shouldn’t be the case in Canada.
And of course, a job creation portfolio, not just for the older generation, but for youth that are exiting post-secondary education. It’s at a time when students are exiting post-secondary and there’s no jobs for them. The only jobs they can find are precarious part-time employment. It’s pretty impossible to pay your student loan payments back. We’re seeing a drain of people’s skills that they’ve incurred during post-secondary being slowly eroded because they’re forced into jobs to pay back debt.
Duguid, Liberal: Strong representation is certainly the mainstay, but we have an infrastructure deficit, which our city councillors and others will tell you about. The university has been underfunded in my opinion. We’ve had research cut back, we’ve had our scientists muzzled. The University of Manitoba is really a knowledge engine for our community and our province, and it’s very important that we support it. Jobs for youth: critical. We are going to be putting forward a plan to put $1.3 billion toward jobs for youth, as well as $300 million over the next three years to create 40,000 jobs for young people.
M: What needs have you identified in the riding that must be addressed at the federal level?
D: I’m sounding like a broken record here, but the university community has not been supported. The university has an impact of $1 billion in our local economy, but research funding has been flatlined or cut. We’ve had institutions like the Freshwater Institute, the Cereal Research Centre – right here on campus – we’ve had those two institutions gutted. We need to support our research, our university, our infrastructure.
Our roads are not in good shape. We have brown water and frozen pipes. We can’t carry on an economy without infrastructure. Our major plank is supporting the middle class, because without a strong middle class, we don’t have a growing economy. We’re in a recession, even though Mr. Harper denies it, and we need to put money in people’s pockets.
We are proposing a tax cut for the middle class and our child benefit, which will put money in the pockets of parents. We know that this is going to get the economy moving, we know that this is going to get jobs, and we know that it’s going to benefit the people of Winnipeg South.
S: The tuition [issue] obviously applies. Another is that the Green party is really against urban sprawl. Unfortunately, Winnipeg South has had quite a problem with urban sprawl. A lot of our areas are expanding quite far away. This is bad for nearby wetlands, increasing driving times, increasing gridlock, and making it much more expensive to build roads and basic infrastructure – water piping, electrical piping, electrical wiring, and things like that.
What we actually want to propose is a Canadian infrastructure bank. Currently, provinces borrow money at a higher rate than the Canadian government does, because the national government is considered more credit-worthy. We would like this bank to borrow at the Canadian rate and then lend out infrastructure funding to the provinces and municipalities at the good rate, instead of the one they would be forced to pay. In exchange, the conditions for these loans would be a reduction in urban sprawl, basically trying to make more concentrated, better organized areas. I’m not an urban engineer, I couldn’t tell you exactly the best ways to do that, except we’re not doing it the best way right now.
G: Again, jobs and the economy. If we don’t have jobs, then we don’t have a productive economy. We need a stable economy in any kind of riding, and this one is no different. A lot of what I’m hearing at the door is people do want decent jobs – jobs that are paying decent wages that also come with full-time hours, as opposed to piecing together part-time jobs to make ends meet. Household debt is at a record high […] which shows an indebted generation that’s not really being discussed.
Child care also falls into this, because every $1 you invest in child care, you get $2 returned to the economy, so that’s actually contributing to a stable economy, that platform. Health care is also a concern of mostly those who are retiring and the baby boomer generation, which is understandable, because they’re going to be accessing health care at higher rates than the younger generation would. So those are the top priorities, as well as the big issues that I’ve heard thus far from the riding and I feel are evident in the riding.
M: What are your thoughts on the current federal levels of support for education? What would you implement or change?
G: I think it’s pretty apparent that the federal government has really dropped the ball in funding post-secondary education. A lot of people say, “education falls under provincial jurisdiction,” which is true. However I do believe that the federal government has a responsibility. The NDP is the only party that has ever proposed the National Post-secondary Education Act, which will provide for guaranteed funding levels, so making education more accessible, affordable, and of higher quality, because there will be a standardization of what post-secondary is.
I will be chiefly taking that on personally, as a goal of mine, to make sure that that bill gets re-proposed in the house. But again, education funding levels from the federal level have decreased […] so it’s a lot harder for provinces to put money into post-secondary when they have other obligations that they are now footing the bill for.
S: Well, obviously reducing tuition would be the big one. It’s unfortunate: textbooks have increased 2.3 times the rate of inflation since 2008 and the average student in debt is over $25,000 in debt. These are ridiculous numbers, and even when they graduate you get about 13 per cent unemployment for youth, and [higher rates of] underemployment when they’re working part-time jobs that aren’t often in their field in any way.
Federal funding for post-secondary education has fallen 50 per cent as a ratio of GDP between 1993 and 2013, and we think we really need to turn that around. Obviously education is a provincial thing, but the funding comes heavily from the federal government. The federal government collects [about] 50 cents of every tax dollar paid, and they don’t have to pay for it directly, so they can kind of help create programs like that.
We would like to get rid of the two per cent cap on funding for Inuit and First Nations people. It would take a little while to turn around the system to get rid of tuition by 2020, but in that time, we’d like to make student loans debt-free and we’d like a debt-forgiveness program for anything above $10,000. That might get re-worked depending on the jobs people are getting. Medical students may, for instance, be allowed a higher level of debt because they will receive higher pay once they graduate on average, but we need to stop starting our young people with so much debt.
D: There is a student debt crisis, there is an accessibility crisis for some students. Without bursaries and loans, I wouldn’t have gotten my undergraduate degree or my master’s degree. I ended up with $10,000 worth of debt. I ended up paying it off over a decade, but it’s the best investment that I’ve made. I think that a priority for me is support for students. We haven’t made our post-secondary education announcement yet, but I hope we hear something about that from the Liberal party and I think that we will.
I think we need to increase research funding. Our universities have been starved of funds. I like to say: the science of today is the economy of tomorrow. And if we’re not investing in research and innovation, then we’re not growing our economy. We just recently made an announcement on business incubators […] I believe the innovation announcement that we just made will benefit those two institutions greatly.
M: How will your planned measures support academic research across the country?
D: We have, as I’ve described, this $20 billion social infrastructure fund. I’m sure some of that will be directed towards the university community. And I believe that we will restore research funding for things like freshwater research. We have the [Experimental Lakes Area], which has a very strong connection to the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg, and that funding, to the tune of $1.5 million a year, will be restored. We will try and recover the role that we played in freshwater research.
We’re incredible at health research, particularly things like HIV and infectious diseases. We are global powerhouses, and yet our university and our public institutions, like the National Microbiology Laboratory, have been starved of funds. So my belief is that, and I will certainly push for this should I be elected, that we need to be increasing research funds so that we can stay competitive as a nation, we can innovate and create those jobs of the future.
The Conservatives have shifted the way funds are being spent away from basic research. If we hadn’t done basic research, we wouldn’t have something called the laser. You never know, these exercises in pure research, just for the point of discovery, often are these paradigm-shifting discoveries that change our lives. All of those things at one point folks thought were not very important, they turned out to be very important.
S: Basically, again, it’s another funding issue. The funding has dropped so precariously that we believe there just needs to be more funding. One of our main things that we’d like is that we’d like to bring in stronger apprenticeship programming. In Canada we spend a lot of money on company research and development through tax incentives, but we’re finding out that that is not the best way to get skilled research and development.
A lot of the money goes eventually from companies, either through them or to universities to do the research and development, but we’re finding tax incentives aren’t the best way – it tends to get gobbled up by already established players who aren’t bringing around the new technology that we’re going to need to become a bigger player.
Countries like Finland, Taiwan, and Israel, they’re doing what is focused investment grants towards entrepreneurs, towards promising university plans. We can’t just allow these lazy “let people take advantage of” programs. We’ve got to try to build on our strengths, like our aerospace division type thing. We have an advantage for cold weather testing. We have, across the country, excellent places to do tidal technological research, so we would like a lot of the increase in funding to go to areas where we have a national advantage based on what we have in our country.
G: I think academic research is a key component at the University of Manitoba. I actually did my master’s here, so I have seen the effects of the corporatization on university campuses mainly through research funding. What’s interesting is students are deciding their topics by way of funding levels, and I think it should be more where your interests are, where your passions are, because that’s where the greatest research comes from.
The funding levels for research should be examined, in particular the Tri-Council funding levels and the way that it’s granted to folks. I would ideally like to see a little bit of the removal of co-opting private interest with public research. Those are my own personal beliefs in regards to that, but again, academic research is something that should be prioritized and there should be more research and funding dollars for graduate studies, for sure.
M: What will you do to support university students and address rising levels of student debt in Canada?
G: I think, again, the key component to that is if there is a national framework, the funding levels that the post-secondary institutions are needing will then remove that onus on the student, as we’ve seen here [at the U of M] with the recent budget cuts and the disproportionate increases of tuition fees.
Manitoba has legislation that ties tuition to inflation levels, but Ontario doesn’t, for example. For me, it’s coupled when you start at the macro-level of federal funding and it goes down to your provincial. If there’s a standard and a mechanism which institutions have to abide by, then it goes down to the student who is not being disproportionately burdened with tuition costs to cover those funding levels, which are shortfalls from the province to the university administration.
D: Under the Harper government, student debt has skyrocketed. I think the average debt is $26,000 per student graduating. The other issue is that student fees have gone up […] under Harper’s watch, and so I’m very sensitive to that. We haven’t made any announcements on that, but as I said before, if it wasn’t for grants and bursaries, I wouldn’t have gotten an education.
I’m particularly concerned about disadvantaged students from our indigenous communities, recent immigrants, folks who don’t have the means to seek higher education like some other families do. And so they need special supports, in my opinion. But I think that by supporting the middle class – our whole program is directed at the middle class, putting money in their pockets, getting them back to work – so they’ll be able to support their sons and daughters going into higher education.
S: Ultimately, our goal is to get rid of the problem completely. In the meantime, we’d like to increase bursaries, especially for lower-income people, First Nations people who tend to get hit the hardest by that. We want to allow everybody [to access post-secondary education], especially as many people from disadvantaged groups and areas as possible, in order to provide good examples for other people in their group. You don’t want to have all of the taxpayer subsidies that are already provided to universities being taken advantage of by the better-off already. You want to target the groups that need it most, and ultimately, we want to do it by ending tuition.
M: More and more students are finding themselves unemployed, juggling multiple part-time jobs, or in unpaid internships. What will you do to support young people looking for work and those coming out of university?
G: We did announce our 40,000 jobs, particularly for youth. We’re also providing incentives for companies to seek apprenticeship programs. Another key component is that there will be legislation protecting unpaid internships. It’s actually a really frightening thing to see what young people are being put through to try to make inroads into a job. We’re actually going to be protecting interns under our party platform.
To me, it’s very vital for us to be looking at the whole life cycle of an individual. When you head through your post-secondary education, like myself, I was promised at the end of it that I’d be put in a position where you’d at least be able to get a well-paying job, a job. However that’s just not the case that youth are facing today. I think it’s really sad that they also feel disenfranchised to vote because they don’t feel like politicians are listening to them. But I’m listening, I’ve experienced it, so I want to make sure that they know that their concerns aren’t falling on deaf ears.
S: We’re proposing $1 billion a year to fund a youth community and environment service corps. This would be for people ages 18-25. The money would be divided up amongst municipalities who need work done, and this money would then be given to their local young people as a way to give them that first job they need to get into the labour market, because so many jobs require job training that they just don’t have.
We also propose a ban for unpaid internships. We believe that it’s taking advantage of students when they’re basically required to get internships now, if you want to find a job, and the ones who don’t have parents or family to support them while they’re doing that stage. Others are often just simply left out of the labour market and are forced into jobs way outside their field and way below their education grade.
We think, with the youth community and education service corps, it would fund 40,000 young people. It would be a trial balloon period, so we would try it for four years, so 160,000 young people would go through at the minimum federal wage, which we support raising to $15. This would give them their starting job experience and it would allow municipalities to get involved with their young people, get them used to some of the problems that the community as a whole has to deal with, so it would create a lot of connections between the next generation and what the current government has to deal with already.
D: Justin Trudeau introduced a few months ago a new youth jobs program. It’ll be $1.3 billion over the next three years to get our young people back to work, young people who have been in school. We know young people that we work with, that have master’s degrees, our gold medal winners, and they’re serving burgers at McDonald’s, and it’s just a crying shame. There’s a great need out there for those talents, and we need to put those talents to work.
There’s also this $300 million fund, the youth jobs fund, which will help train young people and integrate them into the workplace. It’s just a shame that the unemployment rate for youth, people under the age of 25, is three times what it is for adults. We need to do something about that. Mr. Harper has neglected our youth over the last decade, and they need attention. They’re going to be the leaders of tomorrow. And if they’ve got these big gaps in their work records and they’re not using their skills, it’s not good for our country or our economy.