By Emily Senger
Students around campus have been tenting on the MacEwan Student Centre front lawn, riding a mechanical bull and eating large amounts of mac n’ cheese to protest student debt and a lack of affordable housing in Calgary as part of the Students’ Union Political Action Week.
The SU kicked off the week with a pancake breakfast and mechanical bull rides Mon., Oct. 23 to let politicians know they think “student debt is bull.” On Tuesday and Wednesday about 50 students camped out on the MacEwan Student Centre front lawn to bring attention to affordable housing shortages.
Politicians of all stripes also made their positions on post-secondary education known at a forum in MSC, Wed., Oct. 25.
SU president Emily Wyatt used the forum to shed light on three issues affecting students: affordable housing, education quality and the affordability of PSE.
“There is a severe lack of affordable housing in this city,” said Wyatt. “Because of this students are forced to live in houses that are not safe or sleep on couches.”
Though Alberta Advanced Education Minister Denis Herard was not present at the forum, MLA Wayne Cao represented the views of the Progressive Conservative Party, and noted the many substantial investments the Tories have made to PSE over the last year.
“Particularly for students that worry about tuition, we do have a tuition policy that will be released in 2007, it’s still in the works,” said Cao. “Our children study here. I know the situation they’re in because I have to pay for some of it.”
For the three other party representatives present, Cao’s list of investments and promises of a new, affordable tuition policy were not enough.
“The problem of student poverty and increased student debt load are not new problems,” said NDP representative Raj Pannu. “These problems have grown under the watch of the conservative government, especially over the last 30 years.”
Pannu said the province needs to focus on accessibility and affordability for low-income students, Aboriginal students and rural students. He suggested the province address affordable housing shortages by strengthening the current rent supplement program and setting limits for rental increases based on the consumer price index plus two per cent.
Liberal MLA and advanced education critic Dave Taylor suggested the housing crisis could be addressed by changing provincial law to give cities the authority to mandate a certain amount of low income housing in each new development.
He said the government could tackle tuition by giving students more non-repayable grants, rather than loans, and increasing the grants students receive with each subsequent year of their studies.
Taylor also had a message for student tenters and Advanced Education Minister Denis Herard.
“What I don’t understand is why the minister is away on holidays when he’s already asked for several extensions on his homework assignment,” said Taylor, referring to the new tuition policy, which the government said would be released in fall 2006. “Good on those of you who slept out on the cold, hard ground in those tents.”
Green Party representative Mark MacGillivray went a step further than Taylor and suggested tuition should be free.
“We should be moving towards a system of free education as evidenced by countries like Ireland,” said MacGillivray.
The debate was followed by a soup kitchen where Liberal MLA Harry Chase, Pannu and Cao served up soup and mac ‘n cheese to hungry students.