Right vs Left debate series demonstrates ‘politics can be fun’

Post-secondary education reform, Michener Centre, the sustainability of Alberta’s economy and its environmental impact, and how a post-Progressive Conservative Alberta would look and function were just a few of the topics up for debate at the recent Left vs. Right debate.

Last Thursday evening was full of heated debate as Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith brought their Mason vs. Smith debate series to the Cenovus Learning Common at RDC. The evening was presented by the Red Deer College Political Science Society.

The party leaders had the opportunity to not only engage each other in a relaxed, informative debate environment, but also educate the audience on their party’s platform and core values. Both parties market themselves as the official opposition, with these debates leaving it in the audience’s hands to decide who truly held that title. I had the opportunity to interview both Brian Mason and Danielle Smith before the debate, and get to know more about themselves and their party on a personal level.

An area of concern to most Albertan students would be the current state of the post-secondary education system. Mason himself took political science, stating that, “what was most important was the ability to think critically; how to think and analyze for myself.”

He expressed concern over the limited access to post-secondary education, and described how the NDP wishes to cut tuition across the board by 10 percent, as well as implement a freeze on non-instructional mandatory fees.

“Students are not able to get all programs or courses that they want,” Mason explained, stating that this was “greatly unfair.” Mason stressed the importance of creating long-term employment in Alberta by reducing exportation to the United States and China.

He also stressed the necessity of enforcing environmental programs and providing funding toward research and development of alternative energy sources. When asked about an ideal alternative, he stated, “natural gas is more plentiful, less expensive, and is a good ‘bridging’ fuel. We also have to invest in renewables, in a big way; tap into the potential of solar, wind, and geothermal energy in Alberta.”

Smith asserted her concern that the PC government is sending the wrong signal to students through the cuts implemented by them, and discouraging students from pursuing what they wish.

“Post-secondary education needs to be student-centered… Not ‘everybody should be steered to one path or another,’.”

She also believes an issue Albertans need to consider is the demographic change happening in the province.

“Now, we have a large group of seniors, supported by a small group of graduates … The decisions they (the PCs) are making today are completely at odds with the demographic reality that we’re facing.”

Smith also went on to discuss how her party encouraged and enforced free votes rather than party solidarity, describing how it increased respect for one another.

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Smith illustrated, believing that Albertans are now demanding a larger amount of accountability for their politicians, and that they need to represent those that elected them.

Spurred by the mention of the flooding that took place over the past year, she stated, “government should be there for a social safety net for people — but the provincial and federal levels aren’t always the right kind of government to be providing services. Empowering local government is probably a more effective way to deliver services while doing so cost-effectively, as well as tailoring those services to the needs of the community.”

When asked about how their party differs from the current government, both placed great importance of the urgency needed in the change.

“We want people to start thinking about what the province is going to look like after the Conservatives are no longer in government,” Mason said, going on to state that the partnership between student groups and the Wildrose was stimulating open conversations and inspiring young people to seriously consider the political climate in Alberta.

“For a time, the PCs did (serve my values), but they’ve gone completely off track in my opinion,” Smith commented, this being a theme that would occur over the course of the debate.

Politics can be fun

“I think people are finding, from these debates, that politics can be fun — it doesn’t have to be mean and nasty,” Mason responded when asked about student involvement in politics.

“There’s a lot of value in being politically involved. It’s intellectually stimulating, (full of) wonderful social opportunities and it involves you in making the province and the country a better place… You don’t have to run for office to be involved,” Mason explained, believing in the importance of youth involvement.

Smith responded that the best way to gain political insight was to “get involved in the municipal elections. Any election gives you the opportunity to understand what it’s all about.”