On Sept. 30, the UNB Student Union and Get Out the Vote held a student focused all campus debate, concerning resources, vulnerable populations and sustainability.
The debate was attended by Liberal incumbent DeCourcey, Green Party candidate Jenica Atwin, Conservative candidate Andrea Johnson, NDP candidate Mackenzie Thomason, Libertarian candidate Brandon Kirby and People’s Party candidate Jason Paull.
The first category of questioning concerned resources, including mental health services, student debt and time—notably that spent communicating with students in the riding.
Johnson spoke about experiences she has had relating to mental illness, saying while the problem has been recognized, the money is not going to the right places. It’s a problem she believes a Conservative government could resolve.
“I know as a mother, because I've sat in the emergency room with my child, I have sat with my niece when she has also wanted to end her life. When you sit at an emergency room, and then you read what's happening in the papers about money being funneled in, and mental health being a priority, you quickly realize that that is not the case,” she said.
Atwin disagreed with her Conservative competitor, saying that the issue isn’t poor money management, it's a lack of sufficient funding. She also drew attention to the particularly high rates of hospitalization related to mental illness in New Brunswick, which are 65 per cent higher than the rest of Canada.
Speaking on the topic of student debt, Kirby raised the issue of inflation and central banking, which he says have increased individual costs while services and resources have failed to keep up.
Thomason disagrees with tuition entirely. Instead he advocates for universal free tuition initiatives. He believes high tuition costs are detering New Brunswick students from pursuing careers that the province is desperately lacking, such as nurses and doctors.
He says the cost of education is a deterrent for people who want to pursue their education.
“We have a nursing shortage in this province, we have a doctor shortage in this province. And once again, New Brunswick is at the bottom of a statistic,” he said.
When asked how they would represent students in policy conversations, a number of candidates, such as Paull, Thomason and Johnson, agreed that it is important to include the affected community in discussions about policy relevant to them.
“No one else can be your voice unless they're hearing that from you. So to me that is the key to listening is the active listening, making sure that we're hearing everyone all the time,” said Johnson.
DeCourcey drew attention to the Youth Council he has maintained over the past four years, and the “practical” solutions that arose from conversations with those young voices.
The second round of questioning concerned vulnerable communities, with focus given to Indigenous peoples, representation, and international students.
On the topic of reconciliation with Indigenous communities, Atwin spoke of the importance of implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as ending all boil water advisories, and taking action on the recommendations provided by the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Thomason voiced his complete agreement with these statements, noting similarities between the NDP and the Green Party on this issue.
Paull mentioned the importance of including Indigenous voices and perspectives in the conversations on reconciliation.
“We can't rewrite the past, but we can now move forward and work together. We do need to build our relations with them, and ensure that they have access to all the resources that they need,” he said.
Kirby refused to answer when asked how he would represent groups he does not identify with, saying instead that he aims to be a voice for all Canadians, regardless of identity.
“Well, I hate to poo poo on everybody's parade, but I am famous for saying no to every single sort of question like that. I do not believe in identity politics. I’m here for the totality of Canada. Everybody,” he said.
DeCourcey referenced previous actions of the Liberal government, such as the Accessible Canada Act, the special advisor on LGBTQ issues, and sexual assault crisis centres, which he says were all developed in collaboration with the communities affected.
He said it’s about listening to diverse communities and incorporating their views into decision making.
“Vulnerable populations have been consulted throughout the entire legislation that has been passed over these past four years. That's the approach that I will continue if reelected,”said DeCourcey.
Johnson voiced her intentions of voting with her conscious on any issues that arise on which she disagrees with her party, aiming instead to be the voice for her constituents.
“The votes that I represent are both a gift and a privilege, and not anything that I would ever take lightly. So I would challenge anything at any point in time. I would always be a voice for the community that I'm representing,” she said.
When discussing the experience and retention of international students in New Brunswick, Atwin argued that greening the economy and the workforce would be essential in ensuring job prospects for graduating students.
“[It’s] a great way to provide better opportunities. There are so many reasons that we can be excited about transitioning to a new green economy and embracing this kind of future that we have. International students are a very big part of that,” she said.
The final section of the debate concerned sustainability, namely food insecurity and sustainability.
Regarding the issue of food insecurity, Thomason spoke on the NDP’s campaign promise to raise the minimum wage, saying that anyone working to support themselves should be secure in their basic needs.
“I don't understand where we get this idea that people no matter their income, no matter their situation, don't deserve to have a certain quality of life. If you work 40 hours a week, you should not have to worry about food, you should not have to worry about a roof over your head, you shouldn't have to worry about clothing on your back or gas for your vehicle. If an NDP minimum wage is going to get you there, then an NDP minimum wage is what you need,” he said.