More than half of the attendees at last Wednesday’s #UTMSPEAKS: Federal Elections Forum attended as undecided voters ahead of the October 19 national election.

Hosted in IB, the debate featured candidates running within the new Mississauga-Erin Mills riding, the constituency in which UTM is geographically situated.

Participating candidates included Andrew Roblin of the Green Party, Michelle Bilek of the New Democratic Party, Iqra Khalid of the Liberal Party, and Bob Dechert of the Conservative Party and current MP for Mississauga-Erindale.

Attended by over 170 UTM and Mississauga community members, the event was jointly moderated by Siddharth Singh Chaudhari, president of the UTM Debating Club, and Erin Tolley, professor of Canadian politics at UTM.

The forum was divided into four segments, each focusing on various topics, including youth unemployment, postsecondary education debt, the environment, the state of Canadian democracy, the Canadian economy, and international relations. When registering for the event online, students were asked which candidate they planned to vote for. Of the 137 people who responded, 50.8 percent were undecided, and of the remaining poll participants, 4.8 percent were in favour of voting for the Green party, 28.2 percent for the Liberals, 12.1 percent for the NDP, and 4.03 percent for the Conservatives.

Questions posed to the candidates were generated by UTM students and were not circulated to the candidates prior to the event.


Youth unemployment

Roblin outlined the Green Party’s “commitment to a tuition-free university”, stating that this will “help release the burden of debt that our students are graduating with”. Roblin also spoke about establishing a jobs program to retrofit homes locally and stressed the need to invest in science and engineering education.

Bilek spoke about the NDP’s desire to work in collaboration with NGOs, the government, and the private sector “to bring in more paid internships”, as well as offering “on-the-job training incentives for organizations, companies, businesses, and the government”. Bilek also spoke about promises to provide more youth support, including through employment insurance, co-operative education placements, and grants as other incentives for businesses to employ young people.

Announced by the Liberals early last month, Khalid spoke about the Liberal Party’s “commit[ment] to investing $1.3 billion over three years for job creation specifically for youth, also committing to 40,000 youth jobs each year over the next three years through an investment of $300 million annually.

Dechert spoke about the Conservative government pursuing a “plan of low taxes and balanced budgets” to create “1.3 million net new jobs since the recession”.

Dechert also stressed the need to support the “manufacturing sector, scientific research, and experimental development here in Ontario”.


Student debt

Regarding university student affairs, the candidates were questioned as to their party platform on assisting students with the increasing tuition fees and student debt.

Bilek emphasized that the NDP aims to help “low-income students be able to apply and receive grants as well as loans”, adding that the establishment of a grants-and-loans program “will ensure that low-income students and people struggling to afford postsecondary education will have the ability to have their education paid for”.

Khalid responded that the Liberals promise to “have more money in the pockets of average Canadians”, proposing this through “decreasing the taxes that the average Canadian has to pay by seven percent”. Khalid also added the desire to “ensure that young parents have more money in their pockets to run their homes through increasing child benefits”.

Roblin responded with  a promises that the Green Party will eliminate postsecondary tuition fees by the year 2020, claiming, “An educated society is going to benefit every aspect of our economy, our society, and our general wellbeing.”

Roblin added that the Green Party will “eliminate any existing and future federal [student] debt above $10,000”.

When asked how Roblin’s party planned to eradicate university and college fees by 2020, and forgive student debt over $10,000, he said, “Currently we are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry by about $1.4 billion every year. They are a very profitable business. They don’t need our subsidies. We could redirect that funding towards postsecondary education, especially in science and engineering, where we can facilitate new technologies, investing in clean tech.”

When candidates were asked to raise their hand if their party was committed to eradicating college and university tuition fees, Roblin was the sole candidate to pledge his party’s commitment.

Speaking on the issue, Dechert mentioned the Conservatives’ past support providing “money to every college and university in Canada to build infrastructure”, including UTM’s Instructional Building.

Dechert also referenced the Conservative government’s efforts to provide grants for student loans and increase the number of student grants, saying that such efforts “made it easier for middle-class students to get student loans and easier for them to pay them”.

Following the debate, a reception was held at the Blind Duck, giving students the chance to network with candidates and extend conversations initiated from the forum.

One of the key figures to organize the debate was Naveed Ahmed, UTMSU’s VP external.

“We want students to ask the difficult questions and to know what’s going on in politics,” said Ahmed, who told The Medium that the debate is part of a larger goal to increase voter turnout.

The event was hosted in partnership by UTMSU, the UTM Debating Club, and UTM’s Political Science and Pre-Law Association.