Jobs, LGBT inclusion, sex-ed: P.E.I. candidates tackle youth issues

LGBT issues, jobs and cost of living were front and centre at a P.E.I. political forum Wednesday night. 

Candidates from all 4 parties, including 2 party leaders, took part in a youth forum at UPEI

Candidates from each political party spoke at a youth forum hosted at UPEI. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

LGBT issues, jobs and cost of living were front and centre at a P.E.I. political forum Wednesday night. 

Candidates from each political party weighed in on range of topics, all with a focus on youth issues, at a forum at UPEI hosted by several campus and community groups. 

The speakers were given the questions in advance — leading to many scripted answers, particularly from the Liberal and PC candidates on the stage. However candidates also fielded questions from the audience, at the end of the evening.

Youth retention

Addressing a room of mostly students, the candidates were asked about their plans to keep more young people on the Island. All four agreed that youth retention is a big issue. 

"I have four children and three of them no longer live on this Island, and that breaks my heart every day that they are not here," said Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. 

Bevan-Baker said there is a gap in the economy that must be worked on in order to keep young people in P.E.I. He said his party would like to restructure how the government lends money — by creating a $2 million fund to give micro-loans — from $500 to $5,000 — to young entrepreneurs. 

NDP Leader Joe Byrne, left, and Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker discussed ways their parties will work to keep more young people on the Island. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

District 17 Progressive Conservative candidate Kris Currie highlighted his party's plans to help young entrepreneurs, by creating an interest-free loan program to help with business startups. 

"Youth retention always needs to be a focus, for government to help ensure vibrant communities. We have to make it attractive for young Islanders to build their futures here," Currie said. 

He also highlighted his party's plan to lower the small business tax rate from 3.5 to 1 per cent, as well as raising the basic personal tax exemption.

District 6 Liberal candidate David Dunphy said he "will work hard to ensure that youth have opportunities to stay on P.E.I."

When it comes to youth retention, he said his party is focused on education, economic opportunities and affordable housing. He mentioned promises such as working with Holland College and UPEI to provide affordable education, creating more full-time jobs, expanding the graduate mentorship program, and reducing the small business tax rate to 2.5 per cent. 

For his part, NDP Leader Joe Byrne said one of the most important ways to keep young people in the province is to raise the minimum wage. His party has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 right away, and $17 within four years. 

"Asking young people to work in poverty is not a way to get them to think and stay hopeful about staying on P.E.I., frankly," Byrne said. 

He also said investments in public transit, home retrofitting and renewable resources would create jobs for young people.

Updating sex-ed curriculum

Several questions focused on issues relating to people in the LGBT community, including a question about making school experiences positive for LGBT students. 

One topic all candidates agreed on was the need to update the province's sexual-education curriculum. 

Bevan-Baker said the current curriculum "is so far behind the times it's not funny. And it absolutely does not reflect the diversity and the changes that have happened socially and sexually in our communities over the last 30 or 40 years."

Currie agreed that the curriculum should be updated, but he said before that happens there needs to be "a meaningful conversation with the community, to make sure their input is better reflected."

District 17 PC candidate Kris Currie said he thinks the sex-ed curriculum should be updated, but that community members should be consulted before changes are made. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

He noted that the PCs are calling for a return to elected school boards. 

"This gives the public an opportunity to become involved in framing our educational policies such as curriculum," Currie said. 

Dunphy said the Liberal Party is committed to continuing work to develop an "integrated" curriculum. 

He highlighted ways in which the Liberal government has supported the LGBT community, including providing funding for the annual Gender and Sexuality Awareness Conference.

"We are also open to further discussion on how we can make our schools our safest and accepting places of all Island students," he said.

District 6 Liberal candidate David Dunphy said he is open to discussing more ways to make sure schools are an inclusive place for all students. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

In Byrne's response, he did not mention the sex-ed curriculum specifically, however the NDP platform does include a promise to implement a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum.

Byrne did talk about the importance of non-gendered washrooms. 

"It's kind of crazy that it's 2019 and we're still having a discussion about non gendered bathrooms. Like, just build them," he said. 

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