THUNDER BAY -- Education issues took centre stage in a debate for all candidates vying for the Thunder Bay-Superior North riding.
Focusing on a host of economic, social and environmental topics, the six registered candidates appearing on the June 12 electoral ballot participated in a relatively civil debate, hosted by the Lakehead University Student Union at the Outpost on Monday.
The debate, which was effectively a question and answer session, is the only one for the riding that invited all registered candidates or was free to members of the public.
NDP candidate Andrew Foulds took charge on the education topics, at one point saying the costs of post-secondary education are “almost crippling” to most middle class families and reiterated his party’s pledge to freeze tuition fees and remove interest from student loans.
Story continues after video. Video provided by Lakehead University Student Union.
A university or college education should not be accessible only to those with wealth, Foulds argued.
Progressive Conservative candidate Derek Parks did not win any favours with the audience when he said he did not consider freezing fees as a realistic solution, explaining there would be too many trickle down effects throughout the system.
Liberal candidate Michael Gravelle said his party is committed to maintaining their 30 per cent off tuition grant, an initiative he claimed the PCs would scrap. He added the Liberals had increased spending and increased public confidence in the educational system since forming government in 2003.
Green candidate Joseph Leblanc, who was a crowd favourite, disputed that argument and said he has seen costs wildly increase while pursuing his doctorate.
Leblanc also said he supports amalgamating the Catholic and public school boards into a single entity. He argued it is not fair for teachers to be discriminated from publicly funded positions based on religious views.
That view was echoed by Libertarian candidate Tamara Johnson and Northern Ontario Heritage candidate Paul Sloan.
Johnson had perhaps the most perplexing answer of the evening when asked for her opinion on the province’s role in regulating tuition fees.
“The Liberals wasted $1.1 billion of hard earned tax dollars, money that didn’t go towards education,” she said as her entire response to the question.
One of the closest instances the candidates came to actually debating one another was during a question asking how candidates would balance education funding between elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels.
After Foulds gave a passionate response slamming the practice of split classes, Parks responded by saying he doesn’t believe they have a detrimental effect on learning and are a way of increasing efficiency.
The candidates also faced questions surrounding forestry use, handling of treaty-based relations, climate change and the future of the connection between Thunder Bay and the Fort William First Nation, even though it does not fall in the riding.
After the main question period concluded members of the audience had the opportunity to present questions.
This led to a run of inquiries about how each candidate planned to create solutions for affordable housing.
Foulds was strong once again, labelling the reality of homelessness in Canada as “shameful” to government and calling for strategic and innovative solutions to create more affordable housing.
Gravelle promised to champion the affordable housing issue if he is re-elected.
Johnson took a much harder line, saying plans to build a new event centre should be scrapped as long as social issues remain.
Parks admitted he does not have answers to directly combat poverty, instead arguing for the need to get a handle on rising costs. He acknowledged following the debate he has some catching up to do on social issues.