Of 24 people attending youth issues forum at the Francophone Centre Community Hall Tuesday night, only three could challenge federal candidates.
They were the only ones within the forum’s target audience of Yukoners aged 14 to 25 years.
Everyone else in the room was either a candidate, a reporter or too old to ask questions at a youth forum.
“How many here are between 14 and 25?” NDP candidate Pam Boyde asked during her introductory remarks.
Three people raised their hands, including Kawina Robichaud, moderator of the forum co-ordinated by three Yukon youth organizations — Espoir Jeunesse, Bringing Youth Toward Equality and the Blue Feather Centre.
The goal was to “give a voice to youth and clearly to encourage them all to vote,” said Robichaud.
“I’d like to ask the adult audience and the press not to interfere with the forum.”
It seemed an absurd request given the makeup of the audience.
But that didn’t stop Robichaud, a Yukon College student, from pressing the candidates on youth issues.
“What are your plans for post-secondary education?” she asked each candidate.
“Post-secondary education has become a privilege,” said Jonathan Champagne, campaign manager for Green Party candidate Phillippe Leblond, who is currently “taking it easy” in New Zealand.
“The Green Party sees post-secondary education as an investment, not an expense,” said Champagne, who won the draw and was offered first replies throughout the evening.
Conservative Sue Greetham promised a tax credit for post-secondary education.
“Education starts at the child-care level,” said Greetham.
“We must have options, and we must have flexibility.”
Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell listed many post-secondary initiatives the federal government has made in recent years.
He spoke about millennium bursaries, “access Canada” grants and programs to send Canadian students overseas.
A Liberal government wants to cut tuition by offering $3,000 for the first and last years of programs to students who need financial help.
“We’re reviewing the debt load and looking at ways of reducing that,” said Bagnell.
“Finally, we’re putting in an innovation fund to help modernize post-secondary education in Canada.”
Boyde pointed to rising tuition costs — caused by funding cuts that were instituted by Progressive Conservatives and maintained by successive Liberal governments — as a financial hemorrhage that needs to be stopped before post-secondary education will truly be available to Canadians, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Student debt is such a problem “because of the cuts to universities, colleges and training schools in the early ‘90s, $4 billion,” said Boyde.
“We would like to restore that investment.”
Robichaud’s questions ranged from addressing child poverty to tackling climate change.
“End all actual federal subsidies to fossil fuel production and exploration in sensitive areas, which represent $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars annually,” said Champagne.
“Those industries simply don’t need that money. They’re making enough already.”
Greetham, who has “been in the environment business,” confirmed the Conservative intention to pull Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol.
“Canada is not anywhere near having the ability to meet the Kyoto criteria,” said Greetham.
“The Liberal government has allowed for carbon credits to be purchased from those countries in compliance to make up for our lack of accomplishment here in Canada.”
Bagnell favoured targeting the “large final emitters” and cited a new deal with automakers as part of a strategy to reduce 270 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
But Canada’s emissions have increased under Kyoto and the Liberal watch, said Boyde.
“The time to talk is over,” she said.
“We’re proposing laws. A clean air act, a clean water act and a polluter pay act, because if we don’t put muscle behind our words we’re not going to get our greenhouse gases down.”
A pair of latecomers straggled in during Robichaud’s questions, possibly raising the number of “youth” in attendance to five.
One francophone woman, who was under 25, asked candidates two questions.
Would they support lowering the voting age to 16?
And did they support the idea of a federal youth ministry?
For the most part all the candidates were in favour of both ideas.
But Bagnell was “conflicted” on the idea of lowering the legal voting age because of a rising separatist sentiment among Quebecois youth.
“One of my passions in getting into politics in the first place was to keep Canada united,” he said.
“The (referendum) vote was so very close last time. This is big conundrum for me, personally.”
Robichaud’s questions were mostly generated by a network of 200 youth over the weekend, said forum organizer Roch Nadon.
“Only three of them showed up,” Nadon said with a shrug.
Organizing a youth forum outside traditional youth venues, like Yukon College, lowers the chances of drawing youth interest, he said.
“You have to go where they are.”
Yukon youth are engaged in their own political debates, but when it comes to the federal campaign they are cynical, he added.
Adult audience members were allowed to ask questions, which ranged from health care to energy needs to government accountability.
Robichaud’s final question was about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Champagne passed on the opportunity to respond, saying “You know where the party stands.”
Greetham said she was not aware of her party’s position regarding the US initiative to drill for oil in the Alaskan refuge.
“Right now, it’s a non-issue,” she said.
But Bagnell and Boyde both spoke in favour of protecting ANWR.
Damaging to the Porcupine caribou herd that calves in ANWR would result in “wiping out entire cultures,” such as the Gwich’in of North Yukon, said Bagnell.
In an age of increasingly complex problems, from climate concerns to global terrorism, “we need solutions to come from all cultures,” he said.
Contact Graeme McElheran at firstname.lastname@example.org
New Democrat puts the
boat to Liberals
A lack of doctors, long wait times — the Yukon’s medical system is up the creek without a paddle.
But, don’t fear — New Democrat Pam Boyde has a canoe.
Less than a week remaining before the January 23rd election, Boyde addressed the Yukon’s doctor shortage.
Her solution: “I’ll take them on a canoe trip,” Boyde told reporters with a laugh at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“I think all they need to do is see this place… not only is it clean but, security-wise, it’s safe.”
Boyde also pledged to bolster doctor recruitment by talking up the Yukon at medical schools and health fairs.
And she would help foreign-trained doctors living in the Yukon get Canadian accreditation.
Attracting new health-care providers will ease the burden on doctors already working in the territory and reduce physician burn out.
“It’s an MP-MD type of solution,” she said.
Boyde, who worked as a nurse in BC before moving to the Yukon, pushed for an integrated approach to health care in which nurse practitioners are given more responsibilities.
The public health-care system is “ailing under the Liberal government,” said Boyde in a release.
“They say they support public health care and yet we’ve seen cuts to our health-care system.”
Boyde summed up the national NDP platform to improve health care: funneling money into medical schools for doctor training, helping foreign doctors get Canadian accreditation, lowering the cost of prescription drugs by making generic alternatives available and putting caveats on transfer funding to ensure the money is spent publicly and not used to pay for private care.
The NDP has pledged to add 16,000 health-care providers, like doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, to the Canadian system.
Boyde couldn’t say how many would end up in the territory. (LC)