On August 16, Member of Parliament (MP) and Leader of the Federal New Democratic Party (NDP) Jagmeet Singh visited the University of Alberta to attend a celebratory event.
The event was for the University of Alberta’s Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology (WISEST) summer research program. Singh was joined by MP Blake Desjarlais, who is the NDP’s critic for post-secondary education, and MP Heather McPherson. After the event Singh answered questions from the media. Additionally, The Gateway spoke to Desjarlais about funding for post-secondary, international students, and affordability.
Singh says that housing for international students is “a really big concern,” affordability plans focus on housing and groceries
The Gateway asked Singh if there are any ongoing discussions or plans toward improving housing for international students. He replied that this has been brought up in meetings with various people and groups.
“It’s a really big concern,” Singh said. “I met with some international student leadership groups who’ve raised this concern — that there is a lot of exploitation and a major lack of housing for international students.”
Singh added that this is connected to “the overall lack of housing across the board.” He said that because of increases in rent and mortgage rates, “vacancy rates are really low everywhere in the country.”
“That’s why we’re really focused on building more housing rapidly and particularly focusing on housing that people can afford. We can’t just build homes that are market rate when people can’t afford it.”
As a follow-up question, The Gateway asked if there are any ongoing discussions about student affordability. Singh replied that the concerns heard from everyday people impact students as well, if not more. He added that the cost of housing and groceries are the two biggest concerns.
“We’re really focused on tackling those two. We can build more homes that are affordable, and we can bring down the price of groceries.” Singh said that there needs to be affordable housing built specifically for students. For groceries, he said grocery stores in Canada are largely controlled by three major corporations “that are gouging Canadians.”
“We’ve investigated that and found that they have increased their margins at a time when people are really struggling, when students are struggling. We can put in place an excess profit tax to discourage [major corporations] from exploiting people, better laws around competition to increase competition, [and] better laws around transparency and penalties when there [are] things like price fixing.”
“I’m really excited to see what students here can do again. Especially in the face of a really anti-student provincial government,” Desjarlais says
In a separate interview with The Gateway, Desjarlais said that he’s spoken to student groups, immigration groups, and university administrations across Canada about issues in post-secondary. He said one of the main concerns is that issues are being put onto campuses and subsequently onto students.
“When universities in Alberta in particular suffer huge cuts from the province — which is the number one funder of post-secondary universities — universities find this creative solution, which is not all that creative. [They] download those costs onto students and raise tuition,” Desjarlais said.
He emphasized the role that student unions can play in helping students push back against things like tuition increases.
“One of the big roles that student unions can play is demonstrating that they have strength. I believe when people come together, they can demand better results. For students, it’s making sure that they know they have that strength, that you can push governments to do more.”
When it comes to the province supporting international students, Desjarlais said that he thinks the Government of Alberta can increase support.
“The province has a stronger role to play when supporting new Canadians or students from immigrant backgrounds here in Alberta once they get here.” He added that the federal government is also responsible for making paperwork fair and timely.
Desjarlais added that he’s always wanted to see students organize, whether it’s through their students’ union or other ways, “to present a really strong and credible plan to legislators both provincially and federally, and hold us to task.”
“Participate in electoral elections. It’s one thing to participate in a march. But what we need to see now is that same strength, that same demand for social justice,” Desjarlais said.
“The U of A is a good example of that. I’ve seen the organizing here. And I’m really excited to see what students here can do again. Especially in the face of a really anti-student provincial government.”