Candidates tackle issues facing student population

Candidates came ready to woo students to mark an ‘X’ beside their name.

Candidates (from left) Chris George

Candidates (from left) Chris George

In an effort to rally younger voters, with the Rock the Vote campaign, Okanagan College hosted the Shuswap’s first all candidates forum last Tuesday evening — and all the candidates came ready to woo students to mark an ‘X’ beside their name.

Roughly 40 people, including a mixed crowd of students, seniors and campaign workers, heard the candidates answer pre-prepared questions before taking a few questions from the floor.

Of primary concern to students, is the rising costs of post-secondary education and increasing student debt loads.

BC Conservative candidate Tom Birch suggested there needs to be an emphasis on increasing scholarships based on academic merit, as well as a focus on providing educational opportunities closer to home, so students can reduce expenses. He also suggested a program of interest reduction or loan forgiveness should students commit to working in B.C.’s more remote areas.

NDP candidate Steve Gunner noted the debt burden on the average student in B.C. has reached $27,000, which can be  difficult to manage as students move into entry-level jobs in the workforce. He suggests linking grant money to the completion of career training programs, thereby providing an incentive for students to successfully complete their studies.

BC Liberal candidate Greg Kyllo had a different take, noting that while graduates should not face excessive financial hardships, the main focus should be on building a strong B.C. economy to ensure that there are satisfying, well paying jobs available when they graduate.

“I think students would much prefer having a solid job when they leave school to having their interest costs offset,” he said.

The Green Party’s Chris George said he was glad to see other parties suggesting some of the long-standing Green Party platforms in their agendas, including a 20 per cent reduction in tuition, and a refund, of a portion of students loans with five years of service in their chosen field in B.C.

“We value education as an investment in our people.”

All four candidates expressed enthusiasm for an expansion of Okanagan College in keeping with the suggestion of the Downtown Community Campus Committee.

Birch referred to the balance for the local economy with having an influx of students in the winter to complement the summer tourism season, and the ability for people to be trained here to feed the specific needs of the local labour market.

George emphasized the downtown campus’ ability to create a walkable community for students and its enriching effects on the downtown core.

Kyllo saw opportunity in on-site dorms, which could be used to assist with tourism opportunities and the ability to attract international student programs, while providing a pool of students to fill tourism-related jobs in the summer months.

Gunner noted the impact UBCO has had on Kelowna, drawing both economic, social and cultural benefits and says the same could happen in Salmon Arm. “This is an idea with really good merit and with a group that is putting together a well-thought-out plan, I’d like to see it in place by 2020.”

Other issues touched on included transit access, possible reductions to government funding for post-secondary education and green energy solutions.

Sicamous’ all-candidates forum was held Tuesday (after deadline). The next Salmon Arm forum is Saturday, April 20 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the SASCU Recreation Centre.