All four candidates wanting to represent North Okanagan-Shuswap in Ottawa insist their parties have the best strategy for young Canadians.
During Friday’s youth forum at Okanagan College, the hopefuls in the Oct. 19 election were asked what the most important issue is for people ages 18 to 40, and how would they engage with youth as MP.
“It’s jobs and even for students going to school. It’s where will they be down the road,” said Conservative Mel Arnold of the primary concern.
In terms of communicating, Arnold says he would pursue many opportunities.
“Social media has taken over a big role in young people’s lives. The other way is to reach out to them. I will go to schools, colleges and workplaces.”
Liberal Cindy Derkaz also believes teens and young adults are focused on the economy, jobs and skill development.
“The Liberal Party has a strong plan for youth employment,” she said, adding that listening to constituents is important.
“I have experience bringing people together and convening round tables. Be a part (of the process) and listen, that’s what I would do.”
Green Chris George pointed to 14 per cent unemployment among youth, and stated his party would pump $1 billion into creating 40,000 jobs among people 18 to 25.
“Municipalities can address their priorities in their communities. They would provide job experience and income.”
To keep in touch with youth, George says he would rely on social media.
Jacqui Gingras, with the NDP, told the crowd of about 180 that many youth want to stay in the Okanagan but can’t after school because of a lack of employment.
“There are precarious part-time jobs students are doing to pay for education.”
And Gingras says she wouldn’t rely on social media to interact with youth.
“Face to face is very important. We will conduct round tables with you.”
Another question revolved around how the political parties would reduce tuition and post-secondary debt load.
Derkaz stated that the average tuition has climbed 30 per cent under the Conservative government.
“I’m expecting a (Liberal) platform piece on tuition,” she said, adding that students need work experience to pay for school.
“The Liberal Party is committed to putting money into youth employment.”
George insists the answer to rising student debt load is free tuition.
“We looked at other countries and some of the most competitive countries on the planet. They have rolled post-secondary into public education,” he said.
George added that the Greens would direct $400 million a year into needs-based bursaries.
Gingras is calling for expanded funding grants for students and reduced tuition.
“As tuition goes up, support for learning goes down,” she said.
“For students to pay off debt, it becomes increasingly difficult.”
Beyond paying for classes, Gingras says students face other hurdles, including affordable housing and transportation.
Arnold defended the Conservative government’s record, by stating that interest on short-term loans has been eliminated while students are studying.
He also said the federal contribution to education savings plans has increased.
“Those are the things that help people plan ahead to cover costs.”
While many of the questions revolved around young adults, others focused on child poverty, the Senate, protecting water and international trade deals.
One resident wanted to know if the candidates would bring back the long-form census and retain scientific reports and records.
“We will try to rebuild some of the libraries that have been destroyed,” said Gingras of documents held by federal departments.
“If we are not basing social policy on research, what are we basing it on?”
George made a push for legislation that preserves documents and reports on a variety of topics.
“This was information generated by tax dollars and we’ve allowed it to be put into dumpsters,” he said.
However, Arnold insists the government didn’t arbitrarily eliminate documents.
“Much of this information was offered to others and no one wanted it,” he said, adding that rather than spending tax dollars to maintain the files, they were disposed of.
“Each of us has to clean out our homes of things that are not usable.”
Derkaz slammed the Conservative government for doing away with the long-form census.
“By not collecting evidence, small communities won’t have relevant information to make health care, education and infrastructure decisions,” she said.
‘“I’d rather being paying for that than partisan advertisements.”
The forum Friday was hosted by JCI Vernon, Okanagan College’s student association and the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.