By: Paige Riding, News Writer
SFU Burnaby campus hosted a federal election debate for the Burnaby North-Seymour riding on October 7, 2019. Candidates in attendance were Svend Robinson (NDP), Terry Beech (Liberals), and Amita Kuttner (Green Party). Heather Leung (Conservatives) was not in attendance, despite repeated invitations from organizers. Leung’s candidacy was terminated by the Conservative Party the day after the debate due to a history of homophobic comments.
A crucial theme of the evening was equity for marginalized groups across Canada, with the three candidates speaking about Canada’s current and historical shortcomings in terms of diversity. These issues were particularly personal for Robinson, who, back in 1988, became the first openly gay MP in Canadian history, and Kuttner, a nonbinary trans person of colour. During the debate, Kuttner noted that the Conservative party’s platform would erase their rights altogether, especially with candidates like Leung being allowed to represent the party. When approached by The Peak, Kuttner urged to voters that “getting involved in the political process and [at minimum] voting is the real way that we can create the world that we want. I say vote Green because I’m going to overhaul the whole system and talk about things that have never been addressed like intersectionality and institutionalized racism. . . I have experience in those areas.”
This theme resonated with the students in attendance too. The Peak spoke to Bella Aung, an attendee of the event, who said “even though one of the main topics that they are debating about is climate change, I think what is happening to our planet is actually deeply intertwined with systems of oppression, colonization, patriarchy, and exploitation of Indigenous people and people of colour in Canada. I would like the candidates to be aware of that and include the marginalized voices.”
At the mention of representation within the different federal parties, Robinson criticized the Green Party and specifically highlighted the lack of diversity in their MPs. In their rebuttal, Kuttner noted that, “diversity statistics are not the same as inclusivity. Quotas do not mean the same thing as a welcoming community. Every single party is racist. We all have our problems. We can’t hide behind the numbers to deal with the true issues.”
When asked what more the federal government should be doing to combat climate change, all candidates had ideas.
Beech began by stating that his government has done more for the environment than any in Canada’s history, which he described as a “down-payment” for the future. He named some of the government’s achievements, such as amendments to the Ocean Act and other wildlife endeavours. Notably, Beech initially did not mention the controversial purchase of the pipeline expansion by his government, despite it being a point of controversy in the Burnaby North-Seymour riding particularly.
For Robinson, however, the Liberal government is doing nowhere near enough. He demanded a new Green Deal that immediately ends the expansion of the pipeline and eradicates fossil fuel distribution that negatively affects the environment. Kuttner said that the Greens are the only party that has a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 60%. According to Kuttner, this is what the Paris Agreement targets demand for the reversal of the climate crisis.
A discussion followed about reconciliation for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Following this, each participant spoke on the government’s shortcomings and what should follow.
In addition, each candidate said that all recommendations of the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Report must be implemented.
“I think it really highlights the lack of equity we have in our country both in terms of racial discrimination and racism, as well as in terms of gender,” Kuttner said. They stated there is a need to admit Canada’s history of genocide and a need for introspection by the government.
Beech said that an untraditional form of empowerment is necessary. He believes this should entail “the security of the person and that ability to invest in yourself before you can be successful.” According to Beech, many Indigenous people are living in third-world conditions, rural areas unrecognizable as parts of Canada. Beech added that the Liberal government has already invested a “historic” amount into Indigenous communities and hopes to do more with another Liberal government in the next cycle.
The evening also covered electoral reform, foreign affairs, and more localized concerns like the cost of tuition for post-secondary institutions. Kuttner and Robinson agreed that free tuition lends itself back into the community so that funds can be distributed elsewhere. Beech argued that this would hinder the quality of education offered for students.
“This is a world-class education. You do well at Simon Fraser University, you are prepared for the world,” Beech said. He argued that free tuition does not solve all the issues of students and the idea of implementing a free post-secondary experience should be reconsidered.
Robinson countered that free tuition’s viability is a matter of the federal government’s priorities. “There are resources available. . . it is not going to happen overnight, but it is an absolutely critical objective. Robinson adds that progressive taxation would help to address the issue of funding for things such as free tuition. “For example, capital gains taxes: the top one percent of the population gets 88% of the benefit of capital gains taxes. Let’s put some of that into post-secondary education, as well.”
All of the candidates had similar comments on the importance of participating in democracy. Beech said “if you take [ . . . ] all the 20-year-olds, all the 30-year-olds, even all the 40-year-olds, if all of them got together as a block and picked their candidate, they could have a majority government, focused on their issues entirely. If you think your vote doesn’t matter, you’re wrong.”
Robinson also commented about why he believes it’s important for students to vote. “I think it’s the most important election in our history, and if you’re concerned about the future of the planet, the climate crisis, if you’re concerned about affordable housing, if you’re concerned about student debt, tuition fee increases and so on, this is the place to be. . . I think it’s great that SFU is hosting this event.”
Near the end of the night, an audience poll was taken of whether the event helped attendees decide their vote. To this question, asked near the end of the event, the majority of the crowd had voted yes.
Voters can register at the Elections Canada website. Election Day is October 21, 2019.