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By Chris Lackner
Canada's 16th prime minister dropped by Western yesterday to talk politics and tout the need for a true Progressive Conservative voice.
Joe Clark, leader of the national PC party, spoke in front of a capacity crowd at the University Community Centre's McKellar Room. He was accompanied by Andre Bachand, a Tory Member of Parliament from the Québec riding of Richmond Arthabaska, and John Herron, the PC environmental critic.
Clark said his party will be holding its national caucus meeting on Monday, and spoke of the need for Canada to maintain a position of excellence in education. "Costs of education have skyrocketed," he said. "We need to help young Canadians get post-secondary education they can afford."
Clark said the average student coming out of the Canadian post-secondary education system has a debt of close to $25,000. "[Students] go from graduation one year to bankruptcy the next," he said. "That's just an awful way for someone to start off life."
He vowed that a conservative government would return transfer payments for education and health care to 1993-94 levels, as well as eliminate the capital gains tax.
The Tories would also eliminate the taxes currently placed upon scholarships, he said, as well as offering tax credits for students paying off their student loans, and make the repayment of Canadian student loans contingent upon the income level a student attains upon graduation. He said the government needs to create a playing field where the best and brightest choose to learn in Canada and to stay in Canada.
"It's often been the Conservatives that realize the need for change," he said. "My party will hold the Liberal party to account on their continuing indifference to education."
Clark fielded questions from Western students and members of the community, which touched on such topics as homosexual marriages, the new American presidential administration, the upcoming negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, as well as the potential for a merger between the Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance party.
The Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives are not involved in any formal debate concerning a merger, Clark said, but did not rule out future discussion. "The status quo has to change," he said. "We have to find a viable alternative to the Liberals."
Dave Braun, Western's University Students' Council president, said he thought Clark was one of the premier political ambassadors of Canada.
Grant Morgan, a first-year scholars electives student who was in attendance, said while he does not agree with many of Clark's political views, the Tory leader has always had the genuine interest of Canadians in mind.
"I'm an Alliance supporter, but I respect him as an individual," said Kalev Suurkask, an executive member of UWO Alliance club, also in attendance. "He speaks from the heart, and he means what he says."