New Brunswick

Mandatory school volunteering plan opposed

The Progressive Conservatives' plan to introduce mandatory volunteering in New Brunswick high schools is drawing criticism from two Fredericton volunteer organizations.

The Progressive Conservatives' plan to introduce mandatory volunteering in New Brunswick high schools is drawing criticism from two Fredericton volunteer organizations.

Tory Leader David Alward released the first batch of campaign promises last week leading up to the Sept. 27 provincial election but it was one of the party's least costly planks that is getting the most attention.

Alward wants to bring in a new requirement that students would have to accrue a specific numbers of hours volunteering in their community before they can graduate,

The governing Liberals have criticized the plan's mandatory aspect and groups that rely on volunteers are not eager to accept high school students who would be required to be there.

Judy Coates, the co-chair of a steering committee set up for a new volunteer centre in Fredericton, said new volunteers are always needed, but she has concerns about what Alward's program could entail.

"I would be opposed to it just being that students all have to do 100 hours of volunteer work and have a community person write them a letter and they get a check-off," Coates said.

She said she's troubled by the plan's demand for mandatory service.

"I think the [term] 'mandatory' is just semantics, and we're getting away from exactly what the goals of the policy would be," Coates said.

"And it's just a political item for the two parties right now."

Coates said she would welcome new volunteers, but it should only be part of a broader program of community involvement for students.

Every day, volunteers for Meals on Wheels deliver food to about 150 people in the Fredericton area.

John Carty, the executive director of Meals on Wheels, said volunteers are depended on for delivering the meals and helping with security checks.

But Carty said he's not convinced mandating students to help in their community is appropriate.

"I would not want volunteers there because they have to be there. There's a certain amount of empathy and concern and understanding and caring that's required to do what our volunteers do," Carty said.

"And if they were forced to do that, then I would begin to question that."

The Conservatives say no student will be forced to volunteer for a specific group. Instead, they'll be given a list of approved organizations and they can work for whichever one they like, as long as they log the required hours.

Liberal criticism

The plan drew immediate fire from the Liberals as the two parties spar in advance of the Sept. 27 vote.

Liberal MLA Kelly Lamrock said he supports the idea of encouraging high school students to volunteer in their communities but no one should be forced into donating their time in order to graduate.

"I think it's a little insulting and arrogant for David Alward to say, 'Well, young people now I'll make sure they volunteer, I'll make sure they have community spirit,' " Lamrock said.

"Young people don't really need government telling them to do it and it sort of goes against the very spirit of volunteerism."

Outside Fredericton High School, no students contacted by CBC News were in favour of a program that would force them into volunteering their time.

"I guess it would be really good to volunteer," one student said. "I guess it should be your own personal choice if you want to do it or not. It could be good for extra credit, but not for a mandatory thing."

PC MLA Jody Carr said the new requirement would be a good way to get students more involved in the community.

He said it would also help non-profit groups struggling to find enough volunteers.

"It's part of community participation, it's about giving to your community and building your community and a sense of community and responsibility from the ground up," Carr said.

Similar program are already part of the curriculum in six Canadian provinces and territories.