September 25, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 16  

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Candidates argue over university funding in funny, raucous debate

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff
and Karla Courtney
Gazette Writer

Cole Yates/Gazette
BOY AM I'M GLAD I JOINED THE DEBATING TEAM IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Rebecca Coulter (right), Dianne Cunningham (centre) and Deb Matthews participate in the candidates debate in the McKellar Room yesterday.

Western was abuzz with political rhetoric yesterday, as provincial candidates from the London area congregated at two campus debates.

The political gloves came off at the later debate, held at the McKellar Room in the University Community Centre, where three candidates for London North Centre debated post-secondary education issues and who could yell louder.

In her opening remarks, Progressive Conservative candidate and Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Dianne Cunningham listed off her government's accomplishments such as injecting more funding into post-secondary research, expanding the number of classroom spaces and the boom in campus building construction. She said Ontario was in a strong fiscal situation and more jobs were available for students.

Liberal candidate Deb Matthews criticized the PC government for not listening to voters. "I think the direction this government is going runs counter to the direction of the people of Ontario," she said.

Calling Cunningham the "minister of sky-rocketing tuition fees," New Democratic Party candidate Rebecca Coulter said the government had saddled students with debt and prevented potential students from even applying. "University should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it," she said.

When questioned on the connection between rising tuition fees and a higher quality education, Cunningham said the quality of education is supposed to be better. "If not I've got some work to do."

Cunningham attacked Matthews as being inconsistent with her party's message on re-regulation of professional programs, citing Liberal finance critic Gerry Phillips as saying there was not enough money available to fund such a policy. But Matthews said Cunningham was wrong and the Liberal Party would indeed re-regulate deregulated programs.

Matthews said she would personally fight for lower tuition fees if elected.

Coulter took a step further and said the NDP would reduce tuition fees by 10 per cent alongside re-regulating deregulated programs.

Earlier in the day, candidates met in the Medical Sciences Building for a tri-party debate addressing issues concerning health care and the future of doctors in Ontario. Candidates from across the London region were grouped according to their party affiliation.

The Conservative candidates said the way to fund improvements involved lowering infrastructure costs by allowing private investment in capital, but having the practice itself remain open for everyone.

"No matter who owns the clinic everyone will have access as long as it is paid for by OHIP," said PC candidate Bob Wood.

Liberal Chris Bentley cringed at the idea of the "P-word." "It's like the New York Yankees hoovering up all the best players. We can't promise you everything, but we do promise a universal system," he said. As for funding, the four year Liberal plan looks at cutting corporate tax breaks and credits amounting to over $3 billion.

Criticizing the Liberal plan for being too drawn out, NDP candidate Rebecca Coulter advocated "stopping privatization in its tracks.

"The Liberals talk about postponing but we need an answer now," Coulter continued. Her response was a plan to immediately restore corporate taxes to the level of the early 1990s.

Other issues of concern included the need for doctors and better medical facilities. All parties threw around ideas of accrediting more foreign doctors (PC/Liberal) and promoting health and disease prevention (NDP).



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