When asked about the challenges facing post-secondary students in Manitoba, Kerri Irvin-Ross, the MLA for Fort Richmond, smiles then says she would rather talk about the opportunities her and her fellow NDP MLAs are creating.
“We are investing in state-of-the-art facilities across the province for students, and we are offering a variety of bursaries as well as student loans to help [students] financially make it through school.”
She went on to say that her party is focused on bringing resident housing under the Residential Tenancies Act so that students can enjoy “the same rights and opportunities as other tenants across the province.”
Irvin-Ross also stressed that her party is committed to improving life after graduation, making sure that “there are many good jobs available to [graduates] as they go out and develop their careers.”
One aspect of this is the NDP’s recent announcement that kindergarten to Grade 3 class sizes in Manitoba will be capped at 20 students, meaning that the province will see “more employment opportunities for teachers” — good news for students currently enrolled in education.
Irvin-Ross wouldn’t speculate on whether the NDP would ever consider a similar plan to cap the sizes of university classes, considering they can sometimes contain hundreds of students. However, she said that the NDP needs to continue working with university administrators as well as UMSU “to figure out what’s the best way to manage [class sizes].”
The MLA explained that she felt that the increasing rates of post-secondary enrolment should be encouraged to continue, and touted the NDP’s variety of bursary programs as an example of her party’s commitment to university access, helping anyone who wants to go to university or college in Manitoba do so.
In an Aug. 17 article, published in the Manitoban, her rival, Fort Richmond Liberal MLA candidate Dustin Hiles, accused Irvin-Ross of not having a strong enough presence at the U of M. “How often has Kerri Irvin-Ross come to the [University of Manitoba]?” he asked.
In response, Irvin-Ross cited her record of involvement with all aspects of the campus, from attending award ceremonies to meeting with aboriginal student leaders about their vision for the growth of the Aboriginal Student Centre and working with the student population.
“I think that I’ve represented this campus and I will continue to represent this campus after the election,” she said.
In addition, Irvin-Ross listed her party’s achievements for improving student’s lives since taking office in 1999.
She said that in addition to helping revitalize the faculty of engineering building, which had a leaking roof at the time the NDP came to power, “there have been [ . . . ] investments to improve student life, the bursary program, the freezing of tuition [ . . . ]. It’s really about accessibility and affordability of university.”
The MLA also cited the NDP’s 89.6 per cent increase in university funding since 1999 and pointed out that in the early ’90s, under the Progressive Conservatives, university tuition rates “skyrocketed” by 132 per cent.
“We can prove by our record [that the NDP] supports students and facilities, and listens to students and faculty about what needs to happen.”