Sparks fly at first candidates debate

Oak Bay-Gordon Head candidates address issues at UVic Student Society-hosted debate

NDP candidate Bryce Casavant, centre, speaks during the UVSS all-candidates debate for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding on Wednesday night at UVic. Liberal candidate Alex Dutton, right, and Green candidate Andrew Weaver are the other nominees for the riding.

NDP candidate Bryce Casavant, centre, speaks during the UVSS all-candidates debate for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding on Wednesday night at UVic. Liberal candidate Alex Dutton, right, and Green candidate Andrew Weaver are the other nominees for the riding.

The race for the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding will be an exciting one if last week’s all-candidates debate is any indication.

Liberal candidate Alex Dutton and NDP candidate Bryce Casavant wasted no time attempting to expose holes in the platformand record of incumbent MLA and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. Likewise, Weaver returned the favour. The Universityof Victoria Student Society hosted the event, with a student-centric crowd of all ages offering lively boos and cheers in theapproximately half-full, 323-seat David Lam Auditorium.

The debate, moderated by CFAX’s Adam Stirling, started calmly, focusing on topics such as increased access to post-secondary education and the expansion of open textbooks.

“There are more innovative ways we can go ahead and make sure every student in this province has the access to the 22public college and universities available,” Dutton said. “We know that investment in specific areas such as tech, math andengineering are a priority… The B.C. loan forgiveness (program) is important. It allows physicians, lawyers and otherprofessionals to go out and serve their community and… it makes sure post-secondary remains secure and affordable.”

Casavant called post-secondary tuition out of control.

“It’s too high, students are paying out of pocket, and debt is the result,” Casavant said. “We need a properly fundededucation system, not just for wealthy that can afford access to a quality education but for all British Columbians.”

Casavant added that he, more than anyone on the panel, understands this as he is currently paying his doctoral tuitionwhile working for the government. “I was fortunate to achieve government employment upon graduation from my mastersdegree and I still find it difficult to pay the (doctoral) bills.”

Weaver, a longtime professor at UVic, brought up its campus food bank as a sticking point.

“It is simply unacceptable that we have a food bank on campus that is heavily used… Why is that the case?” Weaver said.“Because we have a track record of this government over the last 17 years of putting their interests ahead of people’sinterests.

“When we talk about issues facing students like poverty, debt, the question we should be asking is not how do we get themout of debt, it’s why are they in debt in the first place?

“(My party doesn’t) just think about the quick fix, we ask why are we here in the first place.”

Things got heated later when Weaver questioned Dutton’s statement regarding the Liberal government’s track record of jobcreation. Dutton fired back, questioning the statistical validity of Weaver’s claim. Dutton’s response brought a smile fromWeaver, which Dutton returned.

Another priority topic this election, the fentanyl crisis, brought out some differing ideas.

“Harm reduction is the direction we need to go,” Dutton said. “(The Liberal government) called this what it is, a public healthcrisis, and we were the first province to do so. When the feds dragged their heels, they wouldn’t approve supervisedconsumption sites, so what did we do? We came up with a solution to make sure there were overdose prevention sites.That’s what we could do, and what we did do.”

Casavant, however, said the opioid crisis is amplified in B.C. because of ongoing cuts to social services.

“The reason why we have this problem… is because of cuts to social services, public services and a lack of investment intomental health and addiction services,” Casavant said. “This lack of funding is the root cause problem, it’s a contributingfactor.”

Casavant also questioned the government’s decision not to support an NDP bill from the fall which would have banned pillpresses in B.C.

“These are the presses being used on fentanyl, and where is that (bill)today, it’s on the floor. Why is it not supported andprotecting our children today? It doesn’t make sense.”

Weaver said the Green Party would provide additional resources for support services, for mental health and sexualizedviolence. “We’re not talking about the fentanyl crisis we’re reacting to it,” Weaver said. “Throwing more money at servicesisn’t dealing with the problem, you need to put people in homes.”

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