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Julia-Maria Becker

Calgary Confederation Green candidate talks free tuition and climate change

By Fabian Mayer, September 29 2015 —

Throughout the federal election the Gauntlet will interview candidates running in Calgary Confederation. This newly created riding includes the University of Calgary and many surrounding communities.

Green Party candidate and U of C alumna Natalie Odd is a project manager at the environmental non-profit organization Alberta Ecotrust. We spoke with her about student issues, environmental problems and more.

The Gauntlet: Why should Calgary Confederation voters choose the Green Party?

Natalie Odd: The Green Party is a young and emerging party with a practical and positive platform. We have bold ideas, we’re modern and we play a special role in that we hold the other parties accountable and push them to come up with innovative and bold ideas. Sometimes the old parties can be weighed down in an entrenched political structure and culture and we’re really there to push them. We don’t heckle and we don’t run attack ads. We want respectable discourse and we would like to cooperate across party lines.

G: Why would you make a good representative?

NO: I’ve grown up in Calgary and I’m raising my family here in Calgary Confederation. I’ve been working on environmental and human rights issues for a long time. I was a teenager [when] I became interested and since that time I’ve volunteered, studied and worked in those fields. This is something that’s really important to me and running in the election is a way to push these issues to the forefront. I’m very solutions oriented. If I see a problem, my energy is directed on solving the problem, fixing it any way I can and working with whoever else is interested in solving the problem.

G: What would the Green Party do for students?

NO: We believe very strongly that tuition to post-secondary institutions should be eliminated. There is no social value in shackling students [with debt] when they’re just about to embark on their careers. One in three students leaving university has over $20,000 in debt. If they get a job, it might be part-time and low-paying. It’s a very difficult scenario to try and get into the workforce in those circumstances so we believe tuition should be eliminated. Some measures to go in that direction would be to forgive debt over $10,000, stop charging interest and stop clawing back on students’ income.

We would like to implement a program called Youth Community and Environmental Corps for young people from 18–25 years of age. We’d like to hire 40,000 students to work in their municipality to work on environmental and community projects. They’d be paid a federal minimum wage and at the end of the summer they would receive a $4,000 credit towards tuition. We need our young people to be highly educated, skilled and really creative.

G: Is eliminating tuition realistic? NO: Yes, it absolutely is. It’s an investment in education. It’s an investment in our workforce. As we have an aging population, we are going to need people who are working in meaningful jobs and not making low wages in part-time positions.

G: What would go into eliminating tuition at the federal level?

NO: It would be earmarked transfers to the provinces and also an increase in grants to the provinces.

G: What is the Green Party’s stance on marijuana and have you ever smoked marijuana?

NO: Yes, I’ve smoked marijuana. It won’t surprise you that the Green Party has long been a strong advocate for legalizing marijuana, long before the other parties decided this was a popular issue. Prohibition has been a complete failure. Canadians smoke more marijuana than countries where it is actually legal. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars policing it, we criminalize our youth and it promotes organized crime, which to me is one of the worst aspects of this. It’s creating a much larger problem and endangering our youth.

We should be treating drug addictions as health issues, not in the criminal system. We need to legalize it, tax it, regulate it and ensure that it is safe.

G: Do you believe you can win the riding of Calgary Confederation?

NO: That’s up to the voters.

G: Climate change hasn’t been touched on much in the election. Why do you think that is?

NO: One of my roles in this election is to push these issues to the forefront. It is critical that this is addressed and we haven’t made any progress on climate change in Canada in many years. Our Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been destructive to the international process and that is how Canada is currently regarded. I’m not sure why the other parties don’t put this at the forefront of their platform because climate change provides a huge opportunity for Canadians. Not just to be seen as leaders on an international stage but also in clean technology revolution which is happening already globally. It’s an over one trillion dollar industry and it’s growing exponentially. Canada is the only nation that is not in the international renewable energy agency. We are missing a huge opportunity to create stable jobs and have secure energy sources. The clean technology industry creates eight times the number of jobs the petroleum industry does.

G: How would you convince people to vote for a party that has no chance of forming government?

NO: This is how parties emerge. In our parliamentary system you don’t have to form government in order to have an impact and Elizabeth May is a prime example of that. She has been voted parliamentarian of the year three times. She’s been voted hardest working MP. She speaks up about issues that the other parties don’t
speak up about — climate change being an example. She holds the other parties accountable.

G: What would you say to people that say your candidacy is taking away votes from other progressive parties and will just make it more likely that Stephen Harper is re-elected?

NO: I’d first re-examine the idea that the Liberals and NDP are as progressive as the Green Party, especially with the signing of C-51 [by the Liberals]. That really compelled me to run in this race because it’s a very dangerous piece of legislation that would adversely affect Canadians and put us at risk.

Secondly, it seems to me that the Liberals and NDP are splitting the largest number of votes so that questions should be addressed to them, particularly because the last few years Elizabeth May has approached the Liberals and NDP for electoral cooperation and they have flatly refused or not responded at all. We need to look at the Liberals and NDP and ask why they aren’t cooperating or deciding not to split the vote. And if they will agree to form a coalition government if the circumstances require that to ensure that Harper is not in power again.

Edited for clarity and brevity

The Gauntlet also interviewed Liberal candidate Matt Grant, NDP candidate Kirk Heuser and Conservative candidate Len Webber

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