Four candidates vying for a seat in the B.C. legislature faced about 500 students at Sullivan Heights Secondary School Wednesday afternoon.
The May 14 election hopefuls were all running for the MLA position in the riding of Surrey-Panorama.
A show of hands indicated about 100 of the students were old enough to vote. Not surprisingly, the main topic of discussion was education.
“We love our students,” said B.C. Green party candidate Sara Sharma. “They are our futures.”
She said the province needs more schools and more teachers.
B.C. New Democrat Amrik Mahil said he saw before him the province’s future managers, CEOs, and politicians.
He noted that by 2020, 80 per cent of jobs in the province will require skills training or post-secondary education.
“We must live within our means and expand our skills training and our post-secondary schools,” Mahil said, adding the NDP would subsidize post-secondary students by $1,500 a year.
B.C. Conservative Kevin Rakhra (left), at 28 years old, said he can closely relate to the group of students.
“I look before me and see myself 10 years ago,” Rakhra said. “I want to make sure you have every chance I did and more.”
Marvin Hunt, who is running for the B.C. Liberals, said he has enjoyed 24 years serving the citizens of Surrey as a city councillor.
He said many people ask him why he’d leave a job as city councillor.
“I lived through the 1990s,” Hunt said, referring to the last NDP reign in B.C.. “We saw jobs leave the province.”
He also said municipalities were left in the lurch when $11 million in annual grants were taken away from cities, while the province downloaded responsibility for transportation infrastructure, including Fraser Highway, Scott Road and the Pattullo Bridge.
“The worst roads are what we were given,” Hunt said.
One student wanted to know how all the schools people were promising were going to be paid for.
Rakhra said the first issue is to find out how the current tax revenue is going to be used.
For that, he said the Conservatives have promised to create an independent budget officer.
“We have to know where that money is going,” Rakhra said. “It starts with cleaning up Victoria.”
Maureen, a Grade 11 student, asked what kind of priorities the candidates would be putting on education and how that would be funded.
Mahil said the NDP would be placing a three-per-cent surcharge on banks.
“We are very concerned about Surrey,” said Mahil.
Sharma said one-third of the province’s population is youth and the province needs to keep up with the growing demand on schools.
She said the Green party plans to pay for that by using part of the carbon tax that’s currently going to corporations.
Grade 11 student Fin asked Mahil where the party was going to get the $1,500 he was promising for post-secondary education.
Mahil said that was coming from a tax on banks.
Rakhra later asked the group if anyone had a bank card, and if they ever paid fees.
He argued those fees would go up under the NDP plan.
Hunt said the best way to make education affordable is to keep money in taxpayer’s pockets.
He noted during his term, the City of Surrey was able to keep residential taxes to a zero increase for nine years.
About a dozen students were asked at the end of the meeting who won the debate. Half of them said they didn’t know, the other half said it was B.C. Conservative Rakhra.
Even Hunt said Rakhra appeared more popular with the students.
“The applause-o-meter definitely went Conservative,” Hunt said.