NDP leadership candidates engage with student issues at campus debate

By in News

On Jan. 15, university students will have the chance to attend a debate centred on youth issues between the two candidates for the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party leadership race.

The University of Saskatchewan New Democrats, or Usask NDP, and the Saskatchewan Young New Democrats are inviting both candidates in the provincial leadership race to discuss a wide variety of issues. The youth debate will be at 7 p.m. in Room 140 of St. Thomas More College, where students will have the opportunity to ask questions of both candidates.

Aidan Murphy, fourth-year political studies major and co-president of the USask NDP, explains the importance of hosting an on-campus debate. “I had made it a main goal since being elected for my second term as co-president, … so that students and youth could participate in at least one of the major debates for the leadership,” Murphy said. “I’m very happy that the party has been so supportive of having that here on campus.”

Trent Wotherspoon (left) and Ryan Meili (right) will compete in the NDP leadership race.

Ryan Meili, MLA for Saskatoon Meewasin, and Trent Wotherspoon, MLA for Regina Rosemont, are both competing to become the new leader of the party, a decision that the party will vote on at the NDP Leadership Convention in Regina on March 3.

Meili’s platform is to phase out the Graduate Retention Program and reallocate that funding to reducing the tuition costs of post-secondary programs and restoring the tuition tax credit. He explains that this would mean better accessibility to education for students up front rather than after they graduate.

“I think [the GRP has] been oversold in its impact, and the investment there, while that might be valuable, that’s been at the cost of other investments that could have had [a] better impact at getting more people access to a better education,” Meili said.

Wotherspoon explains that affordable housing is an important thing to consider when talking about accessible education, and he plans to talk with students and institutions about the best methods to address this issue.

“We need to be talking about the tuition side of the equation and bringing reductions on that front and making sure we have grant structures in place that allow all students to access post-secondary [who] have the interest and the ability,” Wotherspoon said. “We also have to talk about what kind of models can we bring forward to bring about truly affordable housing for students.”

Katelynn Kowalchuk, president of the SYND and third-year political studies honours student at the University of Regina, explains that youth and their opinions are valued in the NDP, which is why she and Murphy have worked toward hosting the upcoming debate.

“It’s important to give the youth a platform,” Kowalchuk said. “This is a really good way to get youth engaged, because then, they think about it critically.”

The major aspects of Wotherspoon’s platform are to provide universal coverage for mental health services and improve addictions services, and he emphasizes that he will create an economy that will benefit all young people.

“I am all in to win the next election to defeat the Saskatchewan Party and build a province that works for everyone, and for me, that’s a province that provides incredible opportunity to young people throughout Saskatchewan, [with] jobs and an economy that [is] strong and inclusive,” Wotherspoon said.

Meili commends the Indigenization efforts at the U of S as a successful model for reconciliation that can be applied to other institutions, and he intends to revive the Northern Teacher Education Program, known as NORTEP, and support other programs for culturally appropriate training.

“The teacher programs have been really successful, … so those are really important to continue to invest in,” Meili said. “There’s a lot of work to do … to make sure that the services offered are more cognizant of the realities surrounding Indigenous people in the province and more sensitive and responsible in meeting people’s needs in a way that is culturally aware.”

Nykole King / News Editor

Trent Wotherspoon Photo: Peter Scoular / Supplied

Ryan Meili Photo: Savhanna Wilson / Supplied