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I'm at a pretty lecture hall at SFU where four Burnaby North-Seymour candidates are set to debate issues important to students.
The debaters:
🔴Terry Beech, Liberal
🔶Svend Robinson, NDP
🌲Amita Kuttner, Green

Conservative Heather Leung did not respond to "repeated" invites, organizers say
There will be predetermined questions followed by audience questions submitted through an app, because YOUTH CULTURE.
Kuttner giving opening remarks, says they just completed a PhD in astrophysics. "I have been a student all my youth."

In TA union, they fought for rights, diversity and women in science. Kuttner says they experience science and politics very differently as a non-binary POC.
Robinson says he was at SFU yesterday, standing in solidarity with students fighting for a tuition freeze. He hopes to see free post-secondary education one day.

"Student issues are also human issues," he says:

Climate, tuition, inequality, housing, TMX.
Beech says "Simon Fraser is like a second home for me." He studied here, is on faculty, met his wife here.

My entire life has focused on education and entrepreneurship, he says.

He highlights Liberal policies on environment, economy, increase in student grants.
First topic is the federal governments role in post-secondary education, including tuition.

Q to all: Students pay far more in tuition, books, housing than decades ago. What can the feds do?
"At the risk of using my two minutes," Kuttner lists countries where tuition is free.

Why not Canada? Tuition must be free in Canada, they say. If we want to say we're a progressive nation, we need equal access to education, they say.
Robinson says we must move towards tuition-free education, all the way across the continuum, starting at early-childhood education.

Robinson says NDP will eliminate interest on federal portion of student loans. Affordability for students means housing too, he says.
Beech: I studied developmental economics. In the history of time, countries need to produce goods and service people want and second, you need to invest in a strong middle class -- education is part of that.

Free tuition sounds good, but there are downsides.
Beech: Free tuition is not a panacea. People would study for degrees they're not committed to.

Student debt will be interest-free if you have a child. Libs will increase grants.
Robinson: Politics is about priorities. Tuition-free education would be funded in part by NDP's wealth tax.

Free tuition doesn't have to mean taking revenue from other spending areas.
Q: International students face uncapped tuition increases. Up to 20% last year. Should international students be treated differently?
Beech takes issue with premise of question insinuating Liberals don't prioritize education.

Liberals have put $10 billion in scientific research. We're investing heavily and will continue to.
Robinson: A progressive university should be open and accessible. To do that, tuition has to be affordable.

How do we ensure people have housing and ability to come here? We can demonstrate global solidarity, int'l students make a huge contribution.
Kuttner: International students should be treated equally.

Education is fundamental globally, not just in Canada.
Q: Students are facing unprecedented levels of debt. Should gov't ensure that debt is lowered?
Beech: I see how life is getting more difficult for students.

We have a national housing strategy and reducing cell bills.

You can't reduce int'l student tuition and maintain this system. It subsidizes education for everyone.
Beech: I was able to go to Oxford and Harvard because of the great education I got at SFU.

(ooooo big double name drop)
Q for Kuttner and Robinson: You've promised free tuition. But it's a provincial responsibility. How would you do that?
Robinson says free tuition is a matter of political will. It's a Q of where we get the resources.

Wealth tax on estates of more than $20M. PBO said it would raise more than $70B over 10 years. That could fund free tuition. Not going to happen overnight but it's a critical goal.
Kuttner: "education is an investment"

We need to stop fossil fuel subsidies. Steepening marginal tax rates, capital gains tax and more will give us money to "invest in our own people."
Q: Rents have been going up rapidly. This is tough on students. High construction costs have hurt schools trying to build student housing. How will you make housing more affordable?
Beech says families have come into his office worried about housing. Housing is the "economic elephant in the room."

Stress test has leveled housing costs.

(Lists more housing initiatives I didn't catch.)

Pharmacare, transit, childcare will make life more affordable.
Kuttner: I can barely afford my rent. I'm living the housing crisis. I can't find a job.

Housing is a human right.

We will build affordable units and refurbish existing units.

We young people know we won't own. "We're ready for social housing."
Robinson: Liberals haven't supported any housing in the riding.

Private sector has failed to build affordable housing.

Oh god. Svend is reading my story as a prop.
He quoted Hurley's "very frustrated" quote from this story. Ends with rousing call about housing being a right.

Beech says the housing plan needs to be done responsibly. Says gov't is ready to invest in housing in Burnaby once council does the appropriate rezoning.
Question is about grad students rights as workers.

Kuttner says this hass been their life for the lasst five years, studying in California. "You're treated as some interim person" between child and adult as a student.
We need a living wage for everyone, including grad students
Beech: We're investing in making life more affordable for grad students. We're giving grants to research.

We're investing in housing, childcare, etc.

Points to Lib investment in Stemcell, which provides six-figure jobs on the SkyTrain line.
Robinson says a big part of addressing housing affordability is taking on money laundering.

Childcare is important too. NDP have $10B program over four years for $10/day daycare.

Many grad students are single-parent families living in poverty.
Robinson ends by saying there's "too much fat at the top" at SFU and the school needs to treat students better.

Kuttner says they agree with that.
Q: What should the feds do to combat climate change.

Beech: Our govt has taken more action on cc than any gov't in the country's history. It's a world leader. Price on pollution. phasing out coal. banning plastics. EVs. Oceans Protection Plan. 25% of land/water will b protected
Beech: I didn't go to Ottawa as an environmentalist but saw the biz case for protecting environment and came back one.
Robinson says the Liberals declared a climate emergency one day and approved TMX the next. He gets loudest applause of the night.
Canada needs a Green New Deal.

Beech and Libs said TMX wouldn't go ahead without community support or w/ Harper approval system. They lied.
Kuttner says Greens have the only plan to meet IPCC targets. Greens will transition to Green economy while respecting UNDRIP.

We're listening to Greta Thunberg now but have been ignoring Indigenous people for decades. (Big applause for this line.)
Next question is about TMX!!! Should be fun...

Beech: My first job is to represent constituents. I have done that every. single. day.

I have been a critic of TMX from the start. NDP didn't attend hearings. I can represent people concerned about the pipeline in caucus.
Beech: I voted against the pipeline.

Don't listen to the people promising to be the most angry on the issue. I will be the most effective.
Q: How will you overcome opposition to a Green New Deal?

Robinson: NDP will not support gov't in a minority parliament if it supports TMX.

Green New Deal is exciting. We can work with workers during transition.
Beech: Have you read AOC's Green New Deal? Canada is already implementing 85% of its provisions.

If we go too hard too fast, we get a situation like the US where they're saying "make coal great again."

We need to work within the system we have.
Q to Kuttner: Greens have promised to balance the budget in five years. What's wrong with running deficits?

Canadian GND is built for us.

People say our plans aren't doable when they're necessary. We need a new framework.
Kuttner asks opponents to commit to upgrading existing Burnaby Mountain tank farm. Robinson agrees. Beech says his position is to move tanks off the mountain...

...remember this? He wants to replace the tanks with condos.

Oh hell yeah. It's time to talk about the 🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡SFU GONDOLA🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡🚡

Q to candidates: Will you support it?
Kuttner: I will support transit. It's not up to me to approve gondola. There are concerns but I'll support it if community does.

Beech I support it contingent on community support.

Robinson: In principle, I support contingent on concerns.

Great question: Is there a part of your party's platform you disagree with?

Beech says he didn't expect to become a pipeline expert. Kind of hints he's against it.

Kuttner says GMO and nuclear aren't good enough in Green platform.
Robinson says federal support needs to be cut off for BC LNG. We need to say we oppose fracking.

We have to be clearer in recognizing rights of UNDRIP.
Q is about Indigenous rights.

Robinson: We must implement all TRC and MMIWG recommendations. We must accept it's a genocide.

We have to respond meaningfully.

Feds shouldn't fight Cindy Blackstock in court. Must end boil water advisories.
Kuttner: We are a colonial nation. We've never donoe the relationship right.

Must implement TRC and MMWIG recommendations and TRC -- but that's not enough.

Kuttner ends with an emotional moment: "Our promises have always been empty and they need to stop."
Beech: Our promises have not been empty.

We are committed to UNDRIP. We passed it but it died int he senate. This is why we can't let Scheer appoint the next generation of senators.
Beech: We have invested in water infrastructure on FNs.

I have a great relationship with the Tsleil-waututh nation. They're "doing incredibly well."

I thanked the nation for TMX court challenge.
We're taking a brief break and will then come back with audience questions.
Kuttner teared up in this moment. They said they knew they weren't the first to promise not to not break promises to Indignous people and didn't know what more to say.

I'm very much for crying in politics. It's serious stuff.

Apparently audience members are suing an app to respond to the debate. The people have spoken and it's been... average.

Q is on MMWIG report.

Kuttner: Greens will implement guaranteed livable income and safe transportation in rural areas.

First, we need to acknowledge genocide and our part in it.
Beech: I agree with Kuttner.

There's a Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.

Some FNs are living in third-world conditions. We need to invest in these communities. We are doing it.
Robinson: We all three agree on the importance of the MMIWG.

We need to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in prison. "It's shameful."

We need restorative justice.
Q: Will you commit with electoral reform?

Robinson: We are committed to ER. In minority parliament, NDP will make ER an issue. Liberals betrayed their promise to change electoral system.

NDP are committed to MMP.
Kuttner: We absolutely need electoral reform.

Greens would implement at citizens assembly to find the right electoral system.

We are skeptical of party control of candidates.
Beech: I apologize for the broken promise. Last election, I went door to door telling people we would go to ER.

I think I would be elected under MMP.

The committee came up with an unworkable system.
Audience seems somewhat satisfied so far.
Q: What part of opponents' platforms do you disagree with?

Robinson: NDP slate is over 27% POC. Greens have lowest rate of representation, lower than PPC.

Greens are in the mushy middle. We need to be progressive.
Kuttner says "it's been interesting" as one of the few POC with the Greens. Representation is not inclusion.

I'm not a fan of the "not left, not right" Green slogan. But I found a home with the Greens because they allow me to vote freely.
Beech: What drew me to the Liberals is the underlying values.

"It's so strange to have three progressives up here" and not Conservatives to rep other side.

Liberals get the balance right between progressive and economic priorities.
Q: In lieu of the Conservative here, what do you have to say about their platform. Everyone laughs.

Kuttner: "It's terrifying... it's terrible"

They don't address climate change. If elected, they would eliminate my rights.
Beech: "I think it's disgraceful that Andrew Scheer continues to support the local candidate," (Heather Leung).

It's a myth that CPC is fiscally responsible.

Progressive people won't help you. Only a progressive gov't can.
Robinson: It's important to understand what Leung stands for.

She's said homophobic stuff, supported conversion therapy, supports abortion if in cases of rape, opposed assisted suicide. How can Scheer support her if he cares about LGBT rights?
Q on foreign policy: Canada supplies vehicles to Saudi Arabia. How will you handle the relationship with SA?

Beech: We're looking at ways of dealing with contracts made by CPC gov't.
Kuttner: We need to stop buying oil from SA and stop selling weapons. "We need peace"

Robinson: SA murdered Jamal Khasogi and waging a war in Yemen. We can't sell weapons to the SA govt. "It's outrageous."
Closing statement from Twrry Beech.
Closing statement from Svend Robinson
Closing statement from Amita Kuttner
And that concludes a substantive and wide-ranging debate. Three candidates, all left of centre, presented distinct policies broadly based on similar principles.

A few hundred young people came out to listen and participate. All in all, a good day for democracy.
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