Campus gears up for federal election

Students met with John Tory, provincial opposition leader, at a Conservative Party fundraiser.
Students met with John Tory, provincial opposition leader, at a Conservative Party fundraiser.

On Monday evening, a non-confidence motion passed in the House of Commons, officially beginning a federal election campaign. Only 17 months after the last federal election, candidates and politically-minded students alike are gearing up for the longest federal election campaign in more than two decades.

The timing of this campaign, which will span the holiday season, has been criticized by some observers.

Lou Grimshaw, Conservative candidate for Kingston and the Islands, acknowledged the unpopular timing of this campaign.

“Canadians may not want an election, may prefer not to have an election at this time of the year, but we need an election at this time of the year,” he said. “This is the election we should have had last June.”

Grimshaw said the election call was necessary because of the failure of the Liberal minority government to “deliver the goods” in terms of governance.

Rob Hutchison, NDP candidate for the riding, agreed that now is the time for an election, citing the inability of the Liberals to reach a compromise acceptable to the NDP.

“The breaking point was two things,” Hutchison said. “One was the inability of the NDP to support a party that had been found to have been conducting corrupt campaign financing, and secondly, that the Liberals would not take seriously the privatization of health care in Canada and the threat to affordable, accessible health care for everyone.”

The NDP and Conservative parties formed part of an opposition coalition to bring down the government with Monday’s non-confidence vote.

Peter Milliken, incumbent Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands and House speaker, said he doesn’t think now is a good time for an election, but that it must take place anyway.

“It had come to a point in the House where, clearly, the majority of the members support an election, so once that happens you have no choice in the matter,” he said, adding that he would have preferred to hold an election after the full four-year term that is customary between elections.

Milliken added he thinks the Liberal party has done an effective job in government, and that while there is always room for improvement, he believes the party will continue to “make things better for Canadians.”

Milliken said if he is re-elected and the Liberals form the next government, he will run for the speaker position.

“That’s certainly my intention, because I enjoy the work and I enjoy the interaction with my colleagues in the House,” Milliken said. “I’ll continue, of course, to represent the constituency to the best of my ability.”

Eric Walton, the Kingston candidate for the Green Party, said he looks forward to this election as a chance for the Canadian public to elect Canada’s first Green member of Parliament.

“If we elected a Green, it would be a shock to the system,” he said. “It would be a shock that would allow changes to happen.”

Following the dissolution of Parliament, the on-campus campaign didn’t waste any time. On Tuesday morning, a little more than 12 hours after the government fell, Jared Giesbrecht, Law ’07 and a member of Queen’s Greens, was manning the campus Green Party’s booth in the JDUC. He said the club booked the space last week.

“It seemed clear [last week] there was going to be an election soon,” he said, adding that the Queen’s Greens had decided to set up the booth not only to encourage students to vote but to “think about the systematic problems of our society.”

Will Dick, Comm ’08 and secretary-treasurer of Queen’s NDP, said his group started their on-campus activities last week.

“In anticipation, last week we had tables set up in the JDUC, and we will have tables set up this week,” he said. “Hopefully, when we get back in January we will do more campaigning on campus and campaigning in Kingston.”

Chris Green, Comm ’06 and president of Queen’s Conservatives, said he is looking forward to working on the election and campaigning for Grimshaw.

“I’m excited, I’m definitely excited—this is a big opportunity,” he said. “The Liberals have shown so much disrespect towards Canadians and the way they handle their tax dollars.”

Green added that while the timing of the election is not ideal for students, his group is ready to go.

“We’ll definitely be out there and talking to students,” he said. “There is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of opportunity.”

Marilla McCargar, ArtSci ’07 and member of the Queen’s Liberals, said the club will be setting up a booth in Mac-Corry or the JDUC in the near future to inform students about the Liberal Party. She said there will also be a button campaign, and one to let students know their options regarding voting.

McCargar said that she doesn’t think holding an election now is a good idea.

“I think it’s rather unfortunate, this is general sentiment for most Liberals,” she said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars for a similar Parliament.”

Hutchison said he feels the NDP helped demonstrate the viability of a minority government when it brokered a deal with the Liberals last June, keeping the government from falling during a budget bill.

“The NDP budget this past June has demonstrated that positive steps could be taken and that constructive government could take place,” he said, adding that part of his party’s changes to that budget had been a $1.5 billion reduction in education costs.

Hutchison said he views the accessibility and affordability of education as very important, citing an NDP proposal to allow the interest on student loans to be deducted from a student’s income tax after graduation.

Hutchison also said he thinks the federal government should take a more active stance on issues such as post-secondary tuition, which traditionally falls under provincial jurisdiction.

“A significant portion of the funding for post-secondary education comes from the federal government,” he said. “It’s not readily apparent all the time because jurisdiction belongs with the province primarily.”

Hutchison said the federal government should use the power it has from the funding it provides to provincial governments to ensure that all provinces meet the same standards of education, as well as health care and social housing.

“The dollars the federal government has gives it enormous clout if they choose to use it,” he said. “You can get the results that can come down to the students.”

Grimshaw said he thinks the high cost of post-secondary education is an important issue to students.

“The Conservative Party announced a policy a couple months ago regarding trades training, something that’s been neglected. Not everyone needs to go to university. We need to create skilled tradesmen in Canada.”

Grimshaw added he thinks the federal government should work with Canadian business and industry to create local jobs for graduating students.

“We need to be producing … jobs in Canada,” he said. “It’s all very well and good to go to Zambonia to [work], but we need to be able to do that here.”

Milliken said the presence of international students in Canada is “great,” but that he is not sure about offering them additional government subsidies.

“I’m more concerned that we do subsidize, because tuition fees don’t cover the whole cost of education. That is certainly the case already,” he said. “If the [international] students are willing to pay and come, I think it’s great that they’re here.”

Milliken added he thinks the federal government can play a role in recruiting potential international students, as well as make it easier for them to obtain visas.

Walton said he believes Kingston and the Islands is a riding where the Greens can make a breakthrough in the upcoming election.

“The biggest thing we have going against us is people don’t believe it’s possible, and they vote strategically,” he said. “This is where Queen’s, I think, is critical.” Walton said the Green Party is more than a national phenomenon.

“It’s a political party that seems to be emerging organically around the world in response to very real problems that seem to be very similar around the world,” he said, adding that these problems include environmental degradation, growing inequality and a democratic deficit due to the extreme power of transnational corporations.

Walton added that, because the Green Party has the support of a small percentage of the population that becomes key in the case of a country-wide political split, many Green ideas are adopted by other parties. Because of this, he said, the growing Green vote has an impact even before the first Green MP is elected

While all candidates said the results of the election are at this point uncertain, they all had different predictions and hopes for its outcome.

“I’m optimistic, of course, but you can never predict theses things,” Milliken said. “Elections are elections and party fortunes can go up and down during a campaign.”

McCargar said she thinks the outcome of this election will be similar to that of the last.

“It’s going to come down to be a leadership race, and I don’t think people want to see [Conservative party leader] Stephen Harper as Prime Minister,” she said. “So the end result will be similar, if not a majority for the Liberals.”

Hutchison said he thinks the NDP can do well in the upcoming election.

Dick agreed.

“We’re all kind of excited,” he said. “We think the NDP is going to do even better than we did last election.”

Tara Tran, ArtSci ’07 and Queen’s Greens member, said she thinks Walton can win in this riding.

“If we got most of the students to vote together, we could elect the first Green to Parliament. That’s huge,” she said. “Even if it’s just one MP, it could be one voice in opposition to the mainstream thought.”

Students registered as residents in ridings other than Kingston and the Islands can register to vote for a candidate in their home riding by picking up a special ballot from the local returning officer. They can also vote in Kingston and the Islands by registering a change of address with the Returning Officer at any time during voting period, including voting day itself. To register a change of address for voting purposes a proof of address, such as a hydro bill, and a piece of identification, such as a driver’s licence, are required. —With files from Christina Bossart and Jennifer MacMillan

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