by Jordon Jackle
The University of Regina Student’s Union (URSU) is encouraged to see student issues near the top of the 2007 election campaign.
URSU president Mike Burton says although the NDP and Sask Party announcements about post-secondary education were made during the first week of the election, that’s where the similarities end.
“They’re not similar polices that can be compared in any way,” said Burton, who was a provincial Liberal candidate in 2003.
On Oct. 9, one day before the election call, the NDP announced it would drop the cost of a year’s tuition by $1000.
Two days later the Sask Party outlined a tuition rebate program that would give students a tuition refund up to $20,000, provided students stay in the province for seven years.
“Our plan is meant to be a student retention plan,” said Nancy Heppner, Sask Party candidate for Martensville. “We need these people to stay in our province.”
The benefit of the NDP’s plan is that the money is up front, said Warren McCall, NDP candidate for Regina Elphinstone-Centre. He said lower tuition means lower financial barriers and more accessibility.
“You’ve got to get through the door in the first place.”
The NDP announced its retention plan, the graduate tax exemption program, earlier this year. It offers students a maximum rebate of $5,500 over five years and is also open to those outside the province.
Regardless of what the policies actually are, Burton said this campaign is different from those in the past. For the past year, one of the dominant themes in Saskatchewan politics has been attracting and retaining young people.
“I don’t think you can get 65-year-olds to tell you how to keep young people in the province. I think you need young people to tell you that,” he said.
Burton says this has given the election campaign a different “mood.” The public is looking to youth to see where they’re voting, he said.
But first year student James Dickenson wonders if the motivations are too short term.
“They’re not really concerned about my future so much as getting my vote right away,” he said.
For Burton, there’s nothing wrong with a game of tug-o-war over the student vote.
“To have them courting our vote is a positive thing because at least it gets them talking about our issues,” he said.
Young people are a critical component of the NDP’s campaign, said McCall.
Heppner said it’s a demographic that should not be ignored.
“Students are going to be a huge influence in the future of our province.”