The Fredericton South Candidates Q&A, hosted by student unions of both UNB Fredericton and St. Thomas University, was markedly well-attended by students on Wednesday afternoon.
Most of the seats set up in the SUB atrium were filled with students who had come to hear three candidates from the Fredericton South riding: Craig Leonard of the Progressive Conservative Party, Kelly Lamrock of the New Democratic Party and David Coon of the Green Party.
“There [was] a way bigger crowd than I’d ever expected and it really awesome to see,” said Nicole Saulnier, vice-president external of the UNBSU and organizer of the event.
Although Liberal candidate Roy Wiggins and the independent, Courtney Mills, had agreed to participate, they were not present.
The main focus of the Q&A – all questions were related to issues affecting students the most – may have played a part in attracting students.
Dr. Donald Wright, from the department of political science, was the moderator of the Q&A session. He began the event by addressing the issue of low student voter turnout.
“These are important events in the life of a democracy. Remember, I can’t tell you who to vote for but I can tell you to vote. And if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch. Remember that,” he said.
The student unions had prepared four questions for the candidates, addressing the issues of mental health services, youth unemployment, international student resources and tuition and funding.
For mental health, both Lamrock and Coon said their parties would look into providing more funding to mental health services with the NDP promising a one million dollar fund administered over four years and the Green party by increasing the department of health’s budget in favour of the mental health sector.
Leonard said the PC party would look to continue their collaboration with education researchers at UNB to fund an initiative of raising awareness and training people in how to help those suffering from mental illness.
The training of entrepreneurs was a focus on each party’s platform on youth unemployment.
“It’s not just about creating jobs but also helping people to make work,” said Coon.
“One of the more interesting areas and certainly the focus that we’ve put on youth unemployment is the training of entrepreneurs,” said Leonard.
Lamrock said that instead of bailing out big companies, the money could be used instead to “giving students the training and credentials they need.”
Each candidate also addressed the lack of international student resources. Encouraging international students to stay after they graduate in order to grow the province was a stance each candidate seemed to agree upon.
The issue on which each candidate differed the most was tuition and funding in the province.
Lamrock spoke of a tuition freeze and making sure money went towards lowering tuition.
“One of the best ways to make sure that we make post-secondary a priority is to say no to things that are a waste of money,” Lamrock said.
“Making sure that we have effective programs to lower first year tuition instead of giving tax cuts to those with high incomes after they graduate.”
The Green Party has a goal of eventually having free post-secondary education in New Brunswick. Coon said that, right now, the party is focusing on the gradual steps it will take to get there.
“Our long-term ideal is the European model where post-secondary education is free. And we need to figure out how to get there. And we can get there if we start talking about it and having a plan for the long term,” said Coon.
Leonard said that a tuition freeze is not feasible at this time but that the current government has invested in funding to keep tuition costs reasonable.
“We can talk about tuition freezes but we all know what the reality is which is that cost increases on a yearly basis and as a result, if we freeze tuition, it puts an additional pressure on budgets,” Leonard said.
Students were also given a 20 minute period at the end of the session to ask their own questions.
For more information on the party platforms, look to next week’s print edition of The Brunswickan for a Q&A with the party leaders.
*An earlier version of this story referred to Nicole Saulnier as vice-president internal of the UNBSU. The Brunswickan apologizes for this error.