Gary Bennett is the PC candidate for Kingston and the Islands.
How will your campaign engage with students?
In terms of engaging with students, if there is an opportunity to be on campus from time to time, I’ll certainly make an effort to make myself available to any student organization. I’ve been known to hang out at the Queen’s Pub from time to time. I will certainly be active around campus if students wish to speak with me. As well, we’ll be utilizing our own social media channels to make sure that people have an ability to communicate directly with us.
Could you describe some of your central platform points or objectives going forward?
I think Queen’s University has always played an important role in our community. I’ll be doing what I can at the provincial level to continue to encourage that ongoing relationship between the university and the province. I was the Mayor of the City of Kingston for a number of years and one statistic that always distressed me was the fact that the retention rate of students graduating from Queen’s and staying in Kingston was 3 or 4 per cent. I don’t think it has improved much.
Students will be a large part of your constituency if elected, how will you advocate for student issues?
I think you have to understand the role of universities in society. I’ve always felt that if universities are successful, then students are successful, graduates are successful and so is the provincial economy. I think there is an almost symbiotic relationship between the successfulness of universities and the successfulness of the provincial economy. I think it is important to have that ongoing relationship. I would also from time to time, make myself available to the university campus for speaking. Queen’s is such an important presence in this community and I think its important that the elected representative make themselves available.
What has the current Liberal government done which you hope a PC government would do different?
There are a number of funding mechanisms that the province uses in terms of supporting universities and research entrepreneurship. I think in a lot of ways they create too many restrictions within them. For example, the Eastern Ontario Development Fund, your company has to have at least ten employees before you’re eligible for funding. But most small start-ups that I see being incubated on the university campus, you don’t typically start with ten employees. You start with maybe one or two good ideas. All successful companies start with an idea. Often times it’s a single individual, or two people combining to develop an idea or a new technology. I think the funding mechanisms need to recognize that. The idea of saying ‘you’re not eligible for funding’ until you reach a certain critical mass I think really disadvantages an individual trying to pursue a research opportunity. We need to make sure those support programs are flexible.
What do you see as the most pressing issues for students?
Students have a diversity of needs. Some have significant financial needs, others have less financial needs, but have other issues that relate to ensuring that their mentally healthy, their physically healthy on campus. I think it is important for the local provincial representative to be working closely with the municipal level of government to make sure we’re providing a nurturing environment and a good community support system for students. Often times there is that silo effect where one level of government doesn’t seem to talk to the other level of government.. I think it was Daniel Woolf who said in a speech a few weeks back that the success of our province depends on our ability to work together. That speaks to all levels of government, it speaks to universities, it’s a pretty broad. I think we need to work harder to make sure we’re creating a society of partners and not a society of silos.
Tell me why you are the best candidate for the seat?
I think I bring a number of interesting qualities to the job. First of all, I’m a two-time graduate of Queen’s. I’m very proud of my degrees from Queen’s. I was a member of Kingston City council for 12 years and for 6 of those years I was on municipal council and I attending Queen’s as a student. So I understand the role of the municipal council, I understand the role of the university so I think I bring a unique set of both experience and education to the job that I don’t think any other candidate can demonstrate.
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