The Toronto Centre Green and NDP candidates are promising to advocate for post-secondary students in the riding as part of their campaigns to win the byelection set for Oct. 26.
Green party leader Annamie Paul and NDP candidate Brian Chang are vying to represent the riding at Parliament Hill. Liberal candidate Marci Ien and Conservative party candidate Benjamin Sharma are also running to become MP for the riding. Toronto Centre has been unrepresented since former minister of finance Bill Morneau resigned on Aug. 17.
Paul and Chang spoke to the Ryersonian this week after all candidates were invited to talk about their platforms in this upcoming byelection. Both highlighted student issues in the riding and how their party would advocate for student voices on Parliament Hill. Paul’s office, however, abruptly cut the scheduled 30-minute interview short by 10 minutes.
Ien and Sharma did not respond to repeated requests for comment in the week leading up to publication.
Affordable housing is a top priority for both parties
Affordable housing is a major concern for students living in the riding. Data from the Rentals.ca October 2020 rent report shows that the average one-bedroom apartment in Toronto costs $1,967 per month, while the average two-bedroom apartment costs $2,569 per month. A room in Campus Common, a student residence on Gerrard Street East and Church Street, can cost at least $1,030 a month. Those rents can put a significant dent in students’ finances, given that 15- to 24-year-olds make up just over half of minimum-wage workers, according to data from 2018 Statistics Canada published in 2019.
In the 2019 general election, the NDP promised to build 500,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. They would also provide an additional $5 billion in funding for this project if elected. Chang said he will advocate for more co-op housing, purpose-built rentals and geared-to-income housing in Toronto Centre. Co-op housing provides at-cost housing for members and is controlled by members who have a vote in decisions made by the administration. Purpose-built housing is housing specifically built and designed for long-term rentals.
“The focus for New Democrats is always housing, whether it’s for the homeless or for the seniors or for the LGBTQ2S people,” said Chang. “The focus should always be on making sure that people are housed in housing that is appropriate for them and not on private homeownership. Of course, we will support work on that as well, but that should not be the primary focus.”
Chang said he will advocate the federal government to provide post-secondary institutions a pool of money to be earmarked towards student residences. This will provide students with safe housing close to the downtown core that will not break the bank, he said, adding that there are options near Ryerson that provide more affordable options for students, such as the Neill-Wycik Co-operative College at Gerrard Street East and Mutual Street.
Paul also pledged to make affordable housing a top priority for her party. The party previously promised to build 25,000 new affordable units and refurbish 15,000 more annually for the next 10 years. The Green party’s new leader said she will also invest in co-op housing and purpose-built rentals in Toronto Centre, as well as micro-housing.
“Housing is a right, so I want to work co-operatively with other parties to reinvest in co-op housing, which was something that we basically abandoned,” said Paul.
Free post-secondary education is a goal for both parties
Both Chang and Paul promised to advocate for tuition-free education for all Canadians.
The Green party leader vowed to fight for free post-secondary education for Canadians. Paul said that the party will fight for grant programs to replace student loan programs across the country and advocate for total loan forgiveness and a stipend for students.
“Because of the pandemic, I also talked about other ways that the government could support students, but we want to see similar (programs) from other countries that provide tuition-free post-secondary education,” Paul said. Public universities in countries such as Norway, Finland and Germany are tuition-free.
She said that the party will work with provinces to make these programs a reality.
Chang said that the NDP wants provinces to move towards a tuition-free model for post-secondary education. He said that the NDP will provide money to provinces that want to be a part of the movement.
The NDP will also bypass provinces to provide money directly to students, said Chang. He mentioned that the NDP will develop programs similar to the defunct Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation for students across Canada. The foundation was created in 1998 to help students afford post-secondary education. The government announced in 2008 that the program would not be renewed and the scholarship expired in 2010.
“If the federal government is motivated and interested in supporting everyday Canadians, they can, but what we see from the current government is that they are more interested in giving people tax breaks and a confusing set of financial programs instead of making education cheaper,” said Chang.
NDP and Greens promised enhanced benefits for Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic
Both Chang and Paul made promises for better benefit programs to help Canadians struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both parties have been campaigning for a universal basic income for Canadians. A Manitoba NDP MP submitted a motion on Aug. 12 to convert the now-defunct Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, into a universal basic income. A web page with information about a guaranteed livable income can be seen on the Green party website.
Chang said that the NDP will fight for federal programs to help get people back on their feet faster. He said that the NDP fought for enhancements to CERB so more people will be able to receive the benefit. Chang said he is frustrated that the federal government set an “arbitrary” income threshold for applicants who want to access the CERB. Only Canadians who made at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to their application were eligible for the benefit, and those who made more than $1,000 for 14 consecutive days in a four-week relief period weren’t qualified for that period.
Chang said that he will also fight for enhancements to disability benefits so disabled people can afford to live during the pandemic. The federal government announced a one-time, non-reportable, non-taxable payment of $600 for “extraordinary expenses” faced by disabled people during the pandemic starting Oct. 30.
Chang, who also identifies as disabled, said that this payment is “atrocious” and ignores the financial barriers faced by many people with disabilities. Twenty-three per cent of disabled people between the ages of 25 and 64 are living in poverty and their median income was below half of those without disabilities, The Tyee reported in 2017.
“It’s the federal government and the federal programs that will help stabilize people during times of crisis and help them recover faster when things improve… We want to make sure that there are a variety of programs that meet the needs of the people. We are not really seeing that with the federal government,” said Chang.
Paul said she is confused about why the students who applied for the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) are not receiving the same amount as those on the CERB. She said students should receive the same benefits as everyone else.
The Green party will be campaigning for a guaranteed livable income that will help students, at-risk populations and marginalized people in Canada. A guaranteed livable income is insurance that will allow people to be able to afford to live, said Paul. “When you combine that with tuition-free post-secondary education, you then have conditions for students to concentrate on their studies, not to be marginalized further by economic barriers,” she said.
Both parties promise absolute universal health care
The NDP and Green parties have been advocating for universal pharmacare for years, with discussions reaching back to the 1940s. However, Canadians still have to purchase private insurance plans in order to receive deductions on prescription drugs, vision and dental care. The Liberal government announced in its throne speech this year that it will be implementing universal pharmacare for Canadians.
Paul said the Green party has been campaigning for universal pharmacare the longest. She promised that the Green party would expand public health care to community programs for substance-abuse prevention, along with basic dental care and prescription drugs.
“We’ve been advocating for universal pharmacare for many, many years. We are very supportive of any cross-partisan co-operation around bringing universal pharmacare to the table,” said Paul.
Chang said that the NDP’s plan for universal pharmacare will also include vaccines, prescriptions, vision, dental care, pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention and HPV vaccines. He says Liberals in the current government are “dragging their feet” with this legislation.
“Nobody should have their health care tied to their employment,” said Chang. “One of my friends has multiple sclerosis. He is often reaching the cap of what his drug plan covers, but he needs those drugs to be able to function. He can’t work if he doesn’t have access to that medication, but he can’t get that medication if he doesn’t have employment.”