NDP MPP candidate sits down with ‘The Journal’

Mary Rita Holland to center housing, mental health

Provincial election to take place in June. 

Mary Rita Holland, the NDP Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) candidate for Kingston and the Islands, feels mental health is the “absolute most important thing” to her when it comes to university students and the healthcare system.

Through a platform that emphasizes affordable and safe housing, health equity, improved post-secondary opportunities, and dedicated climate action, Holland hopes to build a strong social-democratic foundation across the province this upcoming provincial election with Kingston’s support.

Housing is one major area of concern she hopes to address—an issue Holland struggled with herself during her time as a graduate student at Queen’s.

If elected, she plans to help the city diversify housing options, increase supply, and fund supportive housing in partnership with healthcare providers and social welfare agencies.

“We have to do better for students whose family sends them here to start a life. It's not a good look for the city to have such poor-quality housing and have it been so challenging for people to access it,” Holland said in an interview with The Journal.

“Having better, more improved housing supply at an affordable price is something really important, and that work has to be done at all levels of government. We've heard about it nonstop—it is top of mind for most voters in this election.”

As a teaching fellow and adjunct professor at Queen’s and current city councilor for the Kingscourt-Rideau District, Holland also hopes to use her positions in both City Council and the university to mend town-gown relations and address complaints of over-policing in the student district.

While she believes Queen’s must play a bigger role in mitigating street parties itself, she added alternatives to the large police presence in the student district around holidays and Homecoming are needed. This includes options like harm reduction and policing reform.

“I think more community liaison officers and also more mental health supports in the community who can accompany police and provide the de-escalation services that would be beneficial in some of the interactions with members of the community, are things that we should be moving toward.”

Holland is also concerned about the affordability of post-secondary education and the opportunities available for students after university, as well as the lack of mental health supports available to students. As an instructor, she’s especially privy to these concerns.

“Every student, every class that I've had, we always end up having this conversation about how there aren't enough supports. And I have to say too, as an instructor, it makes it really challenging because you know that students are struggling,” she said.

“Having just a range of options, either on campus, different means of interacting with counselors, peer supports, all of that—some of that exists, but not nearly enough.”

Another one of Holland’s priorities is working with the NDP to make it easier for those in contract teaching positions to transfer to tenure track roles, reduce universities’ reliance on tuition for funding to reduce class sizes and education costs, and convert student loans to grants and reimburse interest.

READ MORE: Queen’s-PSAC 901 agreement ratified by both bodies

“Students shouldn’t be beginning their lives and careers with that crazy amount of debt hanging over [their] head,” she said.

As the former president of the Ontario NDP, Holland said her involvement with efforts to address anti-Black racism, reconciliation, and diversity and inclusion initiatives have prepared her to tackle and unite the needs of a diverse group of constituents.

Although the provincial election is expected to occur in June, when most Queen’s students will be out of town, she said winning the student vote will remain a priority for her.

“As someone who has been spent most of my time in Kingston at Queen's, it’s a community that is a really important one for us to understand,” she said.

“We are talking about universal programs; we're talking about things that benefit everyone that reduce stigma, that ensure that people can live a dignified healthy life and once all those basic needs are met, then they have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.”

Although the pandemic and weather have slowed down Holland’s campaign rollout, she remains optimistic about the election and is enthusiastic about getting students involved in the political process.

“A lot of people are uncertain still about the future because the pandemic is still a concern, and it's challenging to make plans in life still for that reason. But it's been a positive experience,” she said.

“I think people are excited about what the future holds.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.