Federal NDP leadership candidates talk student issues at UBC

Three of the four New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership candidates came by UBC Friday afternoon for a chance to speak directly to students about their platforms, followed by an informal meet and greet session with attendees. Jagmeet Singh was unable to attend.

The event, put on by UBC’s New Democrats, was attended by a few dozen people.

The Ubyssey spoke to Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus and Guy Caron about their plans for students and young people in the upcoming election.

Niki Ashton

Jack Hauen / The Ubyssey

Niki Ashton, calling in via Skype, used her five-minute introduction to stress the importance of taking the NDP further left. She named inequality and the threat of climate change as the two greatest threats facing Canadians. To combat them, she said, she plans to re-connect with activists on the ground to further her platform, including finding steadier work for young people, opposing pipeline expansions and implementing free tuition nationwide.

Introductions were followed by a casual Q & A, during which the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP expanded on her positions in an interview with The Ubyssey. Her goal, she said, was to bring free tuition to domestic and international students — the latter of which groups has long kept domestic tuition down by paying several times more — “as soon as possible.”

Ashton plans to pay for this primarily by raising taxes on the top five per cent of Canadian earners, as well as “tak[ing] revenue from other priorities.” She did not expand on which priorities might be hit. Ashton’s full tax plan can be seen here.

When asked about progress she has made fighting precarious work for young people, Ashton mentioned the national tour she launched in 2016 to speak on it. In terms of policy, she spoke on her plans for free tuition, as well as her commitment of $10 billion to build 40,000 units of affordable housing per year.

“There’s huge housing insecurity in Vancouver, and significantly more than in other parts of the country, so it would be important to look at needs based on the extreme housing insecurity that exists out there,” said Ashton.

Finally, Ashton spoke briefly on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s pledge to take away federal funding from universities that fail to protect free speech — a hot-button issue at UBC of late. She said Scheer’s comments were "totally unacceptable,” and that they mirrored the “Trump-inspired politics” of the US.

“This isn’t a guy who stands up for inclusion and tolerance and respect,” Ashton said.

Charlie Angus

Jack Hauen / The Ubyssey

Charlie Angus, an NDP member since 2004 for Timmins-James Bay, Ontario, placed a particular emphasis on minority group issues, a grassroots approach to economics, and corporate taxation.

During his introductory speech, Angus emphasized the need for a refocus on children, youth, students and young professionals. He sees student debt and affordable housing as tangible ways in which the government could be doing better to support all young Canadians — those that are at “the bottom of the economic food chain.”

“In terms of the overall student community, why the heck are we charging interest on student loans?” he said. “It’s crippling. This is one area the federal government can move on immediately.”  

He sees the need for a larger, more “comprehensive” discussion between universities and provincial and federal bodies, making sure that government money goes to the places where it is most needed and will be most impactful.

“Making sure that students that get to university can get the whole way — that’s really important.”

Angus has also placed a particular focus on Indigenous issues throughout his career and in his campaign platform.

“The obligation of the federal government is to the Indigenous youth, and they’ve failed,” said Angus when asked if there were particular groups that he wanted to better support. “It is so difficult to get Indigenous youth the educational opportunities to even get to university, and then the government underfunds them when they get there. So we have to start proper education, proper access to education, from day one.”

He sees universities as the perfect stage on which to shift the national rhetoric and relationship between colonizers and Indigenous peoples to one of reconciliation.

“Post-secondary institutions can play a huge role in ensuring that that relationship becomes a progressive relationship, a positive relationship, and one that benefits our whole society. I think it’s job one right now.”

Guy Caron

Jack Hauen / The Ubyssey

Guy Caron, Rimouski-Neigette–Témiscouata–Les Basques MP since 2011, used the majority of his speech to outline the specific points of his platform. An economist by training, Caron focused on the challenges that stem from the transition to an automation and green economy, as well as the “30 years of economic restructuring by the Liberals and Conservatives.” Some mentioned problems include poverty and the loss of full time jobs.

His main solution revolves around a basic income supplement for those living under the low-income-cut-off line.

Determined by the size of the community, the line could be at $18,000 for an individual living in a less-than-30,000 people community or $25,000 for those living in larger cities like Vancouver, according to him. The supplement to help people reach this cut-off would be in the form of bi-monthly cheques.

“Basic income is there so that no one would go under the level of poverty … This basic income is also to address the challenges of automation in the economy and also of the need to move towards green economy,” he said. “Those transitions always hurt workers and they always bear the brunt — this will ensure that that wouldn’t happen.”

For students in particular, Caron believes the basic income would simplify the question of affordability for either a first-time degree or retraining. Echoing a debate in March 2017, he argued in favour of a basic income over free tuition because “the cost of education is not only tuition and fees, but also the cost of subsistence when you’re not working.”

Other aspects of his platform includes reforming the current tax code, changing to a mixed member proportional electoral system, combatting climate change and supporting Indigenous groups through strategic investment into their communities.

“It starts with infrastructure and ensuring that the communities have the basic utilities that they need to live,” Caron said. “Drinkable water and housing are also major, [but mainly] it needs to be done according to the needs of the community.”