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NDP’s Michelle Mungall visits UFV

Advanced Education Critic talks politics with The Cascade

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By Joe Johnson (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 9, 2011

Since early September, Michelle Mungall, the Advanced Education Critic for the BC NDP, has been travelling across the province to tour post-secondary institutions. At each college or university she’s visited, she’s been looking to speak with administrators and students alike in order to develop a better understanding of the issues important to us.

Mungall visited UFV on November 4th. She first spoke with the president, and then met with the Student Union Society and other students at AfterMath to discuss whatever was on their minds, including of course, a little politics. The location made for a relaxed setting that allowed attendees to get up to speed with what was happening in legislature, and what a few of the important implications of this are for students. Afterwards, she made time to discuss details with The Cascade.

Joe Johnson: What got you into the political scene?

Michelle Mungall: Well, I’ve always been very passionate about politics and so this is very much something that I love to do…. There were a few people that played a major role in encouraging me to run for my first election, which I won (which was Nelson city council). And one of the people was actually Jack Layton. We had a really great tete-a-tete strategizing session on how to win an election, a municipal election. Of course he knew a lot about that – he was a municipal councillor. And I employed his strategies, and they were successful.

JJ:  Interest on student loans is growing, and it begins right away in BC. The economy is down, so the possibility of finding good jobs is also down. What can be done to help students when they finally leave university for the real world?

MM: Well, I think first and foremost we need to address student debt. What the NDP has put forward is that we want to eliminate interest rates on student loans… And that would put a significant amount of money back in students’ pockets over the course of their repayment period. Right now we [have] the highest student interest rate in the entire country on provincial student loans. We want to go from last to leader. I think that’s doing right by students… we also want to ensure that people from lower income families also have just as much support as someone from a higher income family to get into post-secondary education. And the way we can do that is to ensure that BC has gone from zero dollars in a needs-based grants system to a hundred-million dollars into a needs-based grants system. And that’s what we want to do, and that’s what we’ve been calling on the Liberal government to do, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do if we become government after 2013.

JJ: The big win for the ship building contract here was huge. Have you been to see the Trades & Technology Centre in Chilliwack?

MM: I have not been out to Chilliwack, unfortunately. The legislature session is going on right now so it’s really cut into the time I have to do a full tour of all the campuses throughout the province. But… our trades and technology sector has so much to contribute, not just to that contract but to the jobs of tomorrow. 80 per cent of jobs by 2017 are going to require some level of post-secondary education. And we are also facing a major skills gap in the trades by that same year, 2017. We are looking at 160,000 jobs not being filled because we don’t have the right skills in our labour force to fill those jobs. So we need to be supporting people getting into the trades and getting their ticket so that we have a labour force ready for the jobs of tomorrow.

JJ: Can you discuss the good and bad of [Bill 17]?

MM: What it does is it amalgamates the provincial and federal student loan system, in terms of how students experience it. Administratively, the policies and the decisions around the provincial student loan system are still done by the province, but now students will have one application, one repayment, and will not have to bother with two levels of government. They will have on place where they can ask their questions and get their services around student loans. So it really eases and creates great convenience around students’ loans. There will also be great education around debt and debt repayment… The bad thing is that it still doesn’t address the major issues that are top of mind, which are debt and affordability.

JJ: Bill 18, with considerations to sections 18, 19, and 20 – can you speak to those?

MM: The biggest concern here for students is section 19, where students elect their representative onto the board of governors. And section 19 now says that by a two-thirds majority of vote of the board of governors, [the] students’ elected representative [may be removed]. So it subverts the democratic process whereby the person who was elected by the students can be removed by people who were not elected by the students; namely those who were appointed by the government. So this flies in the face of democracy and it’s a huge problem and students really should be concerned about this.

JJ: Another issue for students is transit. Being out in Abbotsford and the Valley, getting out to Vancouver is nearly impossible. What’s the NDP’s plan on that?

MM: Specifically around the Lower Mainland, in terms of where the buses are going to go and everything, that’s a municipal government function that decides that. But the question is: “What are we going to do to make sure that there is greater public transit?” One of the things that we’ve proposed in the past and we’re looking at again for our next platform is the Green Bond fund that is created by the province. And that money is used to invest into things like public transit in greening our infrastructure, and so on.

Another thing that we want to do is stop the revenue neutrality of the carbon tax. We want to take the revenue from the carbon tax and not give it away to corporate tax cuts to… the biggest polluters… [but] put it into public transit. And so that will have tremendous revenue generating opportunities for the government to do some really good work to get public transit out to places like Abbotsford, out to places like Chilliwack.

JJ: What are your thoughts on youth apathy towards politics, and how do you turn that around?

MM: I think the secret to getting young people to participate in voting is education. When people understand how the system works and how they can be involved in it, it’s hugely empowering. And then people have a better understanding of how their vote translates into decision making. And so I think that doing campaigns like ‘Rock the Vote’ or ‘Get Your Vote On’, [can] be successful, I know they are still successful. And I think that’s one of the best things that we can do to encourage young people to get out to vote, short of making voting mandatory.

JJ: What’s the best thing students can do to affect political change?

MM: Get involved, right? Get out to vote. That’s really easy and it doesn’t take very much time. We’ve come up with systems in our country that mean voting takes just a few minutes. And you get all of this, you get a democracy for it. And if you don’t vote, that democracy will go away… But if you… want to really influence the day-to-day operations in government and the decision-making, you’ve got to get involved. Sometimes it’s sending a letter to your MLA, or to an MLA who’s working on the same thing that you care about, like post-secondary education. Send me a letter, send me an email or Facebook or Tweet. Get engaged about what’s going on and be a part of the conversation about the issues that are important to you… get involved in your student union or… [if] you’re really concerned about green technologies and climate change… get involved in your local environmental groups that are working on those issues. When you become involved in a community like that, you empower yourself and you empower your community’s voice.

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