What to watch for in tonight’s debate

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Tonight, the leaders of the three major parties will square off in the first – and only – televised debate of the 2014 Ontario Election campaign (6:30 p.m. on CBC). Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak, and Andrea Horwath will lay out their respective visions for the province. The media analysts will likely focus on who gives the best performance, or who manages to land the most verbal punches. But here at OCUFA, we believe – as many do – that elections should be about public policy and ideas. With that in mind, here are some things to look for in tonight’s debate.

A plan for higher education in Ontario. In an election that is ostensibly all about jobs and the economy, there has been little mention of Ontario’s universities and colleges. This is strange, because our higher education institutions are great at educating people for future careers. They also conduct research that spurs economic growth and creates whole new industries, while building a fairer and more prosperous society.

The three major parties have paid almost no attention to higher education, which is disappointing. The policies that have been proposed are piecemeal and inadequate. For example, the NDP is arguing for a tuition fee freeze. While this would help with the affordability of higher education, it would do nothing for the urgent need for increased public investment in universities. In fact, without compensatory funding for universities for lost tuition fee revenue, the NDP policy would make the financial situation much worse.

We need the provincial political parties to bring an integrated vision for higher education to the table. Look for the leader who understands how tuition fees, public investment, research funding, and educational quality are connected. Also watch for the leader who connects higher education to job creation and the economy – they get it.

A commitment to respect the rights of faculty members and other public employees. Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives have made it clear that they will be coming after public employees—their labour rights, their salaries, and even their jobs. The PCs’ plans – including the promise to cut 100,000 public sector jobs – would devastate higher education in Ontario, hurt local economies, and decimate public services. We need either Kathleen Wynne or Andrea Horwarth to stand up for the public sector, and make a clear commitment to protecting the rights of public sector workers, including professors and academic librarians.

Of course, these topics may not come up at all. This would be disappointing, since both are crucial to the future vitality of Ontario. If a leader presents a plan for higher education and makes a commitment to protect public services and public employees, then they will be worthy of your consideration. If they don’t, OCUFA will continue to advocate for real policies that will make a real difference to students, their families, and faculty members across Ontario.

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