Kelowna-Mission candidates talk education

All-candidates meeting organized by students draws a small crowd.

Based on the size of the crowd, The two men and two women vying for the Kelowna-Mission MLA’s job are not “rocking the vote.”

Student organizers of an all-candidates meeting at Okanagan College Tuesday evening said they have persuaded 1,100 local college and university students to register to vote in the May 14 election but only 17 people came out to hear what Liberal incumbent Steve Thomson, NDP challenger Tish Lakes, Mike McLoughlin of the B.C.Conservatives and independent Dayleen Van Ryswyk had to say.

The quartet, who have already spoken at  four all-candidates meetings in the riding in the first 2 1/2 weeks of the campaign, were asked questions mainly about post-secondary education, skills training and  transit.

They all agreed on the need for more skills training, that students graduating from post-secondary education need help with the debt they amass during their studies and the need to keep education affordable.

But they differred on how to do that.

Thomson pointed to the government’s record on funding education, especially skills training, highlighting the $28 million investment announced to ovehaul Okanagan College’s trades training centre in Kelowna.

“I feel we have made significant investments for generations to come here in the Okanagan,” he said.

But Lakes said more needs to be done to help students while they are learning and the NDP would reintroduce a program of grants to help students not incur as much debt while they are at school.

“You should be able to get grants every year,” she said. “The amount of debt you are graduating with is outrageous.”

She said said her party also wants to see better repayment plans for students saddled with high debt.

McLoughlin said the government needs to step back and look at how it is funding post-secondary education.

He said businesses who benefit from students after they graduate, particularly in trades, should bear part of the costs of training young people at post-secondary educational institutions.

He added because the issue includes the federal government, which provides student loans,  and banks, which set interest rates, both need to be included in the conversation.

He said the Conservatives want to eliminate the carbon tax as that will help stabilize the economy leading to more jobs for college graduates.

Van Ryswyk, who called herself the only independent voice in the race, said she would act as the public’s voice and wants to hear what students want and need before representing that view in Victoria.

She slammed the government for what she said are plans to cut as much as $46 million from education over the next three years.

“That’s not good for students,” she said.

She added she would like to see interest rates on students loans reduced so graduates are not leaving school burdened by such a high levels of debt.

All four candidates were asked about improved transit in the riding, particularly for students and they all said while it is a city responsibility, it would be a priority for them if elected.

The city has said it wants to improve transit from Okanagan College to link with the Rapid Bus system along Highway 97. Currently, improvements to the system have been made between West Kelowna, downtown and UBC Okanagan.

Asked about minimum wage, the three representatives of the political parties in the race said their parties have no plan to raise it if they form the next government. Van Ryswyk said while she would like to see it higher, an increase would have an impact on some business in the community and that needs to be considered.

As for their top priorities if elected on May 14, Thomson and Van Ryswyk both said it is water, as funding is needed for improvements to water quality in this area. McLoughlin said his first priority is getting more family doctors here and then it would be water. Lakes said housing would be her top priority once the true state of the province’s finances are fully understood.

The meeting was put on as part of the Okanagan College Student Union’s Rock The Vote campaign to get more young people out to vote in the provincial election.