Alberni District Secondary School students had a chance to weigh in on the upcoming provincial election with questions regarding university affordability, sex education and youth employment.
The school’s theatre was packed with high school students last Wednesday to hear from five of the six Mid Island Pacific Rim MLA candidates.
The debate was hosted by the school’s Model United Nations Club.
After opening statements from the five candidates, Julian Fell (BC Conservatives), Dan Cebuliak (Refed), Darren DeLuca (BC Liberals), Scott Fraser (NDP) and Alicia La Rue (BC Green), students had the opportunity to ask questions.
“How will you and your party contribute to making university more affordable for youth,” asked one student.
DeLuca was first to respond by outlining the Liberals BC trades grant for trades students, a $4,000 relocating grant that is available to students who move at least 100 km to attend an in-demand program and the Liberal’s loan forgiveness program for those working in the health care sector.
Fraser said he’s never seen such “callous disregard” for students than with the BC Liberals. He says Christy Clark and the Liberals have stripped away rights and underfunded the school system, to which he got applause from the crowd.
“There’s an entire generation of students denied supports they need to live up to their potential,” Fraser said. “Post secondary fees doubled and then tripled…B.C. students have the highest rate of student loans anywhere in the country.”
Part of the NDP’s platform is to eliminate fees for Adult Basic Education and ESL and cap tuition fees at colleges and universities.
La Rue answered next by saying that after finishing university she had “huge debt.”
“This has got to change,” she said.
The Green’s platform includes a goal to invest $65 million over four years to support co-op and work experience programs for high school and undergraduate students as well as offer a tax forgiveness of up to $2,000 a year for up to five years to assist graduates in repaying debt from tuition fees.
The second question came from a student who asked whether the candidates think sexual education should be increased or decreased for students in kindergarten through Grade 12.
Fell answered first by saying “the province is not your mother, the province is not your nanny,” which is a common position of the BCConservatives. Essentially he said sex ed is not the provinces business and the matter should be between parents and schools.
Fraser said the curriculum is lacking in sexual education. He pointed out how he brought a group of grade 10 social studies students to the legislature last year to to meet with provincial Ministry of Education representatives to discuss the lack of sex ed in some schools.
“There’s a great need for improvement in sex ed, dealing with teen pregnancy, LGBT issues and STDs,” Fraser said. “There’s no direction from the ministry or political masters to budget for such thing.”
La Rue said the Greens would talk to parents, teachers and students to see what is lacking in sexual education and increase awareness if needed. “Greens are science and evidence based,” she said.
DeLuca said he believes sex education starts in the home, between parents and children, and is not something for the schools to lead on.
“I don’t think schools should be endoctrining kids,” he said.
A question on what candidates will do to improve youth employment came next.
La Rue said Greens will help provide more co-op and apprenticeship programs while focusing on local businesses and entrepreneurship.
“It’s important you do something you really love to do,” she said.
Cebuliak said the BC ReFed Party is passionate about guaranteeing youth employment.
DeLuca spoke about the Liberal’s five successful balance budgets. He said they invest in infrastructure that allows youth to find employment. He pointed out investments already made into the community such as at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport and the Echo Aquatic Centre
Fraser said the NDP plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to which he got a loud applause from the audience.
Next, a student asked how the candidates would help people in low-income situations.
DeLuca answered first by saying “it all starts with a job…I don’t believe increasing welfare is a solution…we can do a lot more than that.”
Fell said the high cost of housing is the number one cause of people being short of money. The BCConservatives, he said, plan to provide 200,000 low-cost housing units through the province that don’t require government money.
Fraser said the NDP plan to bump social assistance and disability cheques up $100 a month and build 114,000 affordable rental, non-profit and co-op housing units through partnerships over 10 years.
La Rue said that people’s basic needs should be met. She said the BC Greens have a plan to launch a basic income pilot project that will test its ability to reduce poverty, improve health, housing and employment.
Advance polling begins Saturday, April 29 with six days of advance voting leading up to the May 9 provincial general election.
Port Alberni residents can head to the Alberni Athletic Hall on Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30, and Wednesday, May 3 through Saturday, May 6.