By Laura DaSilva
The struggle for students to find work after graduation became a hot topic at an Etobicoke Centre all candidates’ debate in Markland Wood.
The debate, at St. Clement Catholic Church on Monday night, brought together candidates from the Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green parties.
In the midst of lengthy discussions on pension reform and veterans affairs, Michael Chapeski stood up and asked what each party plans on doing to help overqualified and underemployed youth.
“You have more and more young people going into the job market with the promise that higher education leads to more money,” he said. “The jobs stay the same. You just enter into another shark tank.”
Chapeski has two college certificates and a university honours degree. He said he’s having trouble finding work in public relations.
“I work in a kitchen. I have $60,000 in debt. I know I’m not the only one,” he said.
Liberal candidate Boryz Wrzesnewskyj said too many young graduates are saddled with outrageous amounts of debt and forced to take on menial jobs that don’t allow them to pay it off.
“Their first real life experience after graduation should not be personal bankruptcy,” he said.
The Liberals are proposing a $1.3 billion youth employment fund to create 40,000 new jobs in the first three years, if they win. They also plan on covering a quarter of co-op placement costs.
Opitz said students need to be strategic in the types of jobs they’re looking for and that the federal government is doing its part.
“Where you really need to look is right here, in this province with the Wynne government,” he said. “They have shed hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.”
NDP candidate Tanya DeMello, who works at the University of Toronto, said Ontarians should be “gravely alarmed” by the 13.1 percent youth unemployment rate.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is promising a $100 million dollar investment in youth training and the creation of youth opportunities over the next four years.
DeMello said the NDP plans to crack down on unpaid internships.
“I think it’s outrageous having all of these young people being told they have to work for free in order to get a job,” she said. “It’s exploitative.”
DeMello said Mulcair will mandate government agencies to have youth apprentices.
“If the government isn’t modeling the behaviours we want small businesses to perform, there’s no way we can have this trend turn around,” she said.
But student issues weren’t the only topics in this sometimes-heated debate.
Leftover tension was palpable from the 2011 election, where Wrzesnewskyj , the incumbent Liberal MP at the time, lost by just 26 votes to Opitz and took the ballot dispute to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Wrzesnewskyj failed to get the result changed.
On Monday night, after Wrzesnewskyj called Stephen Harper’s political strategy “Machiavellian” during a discussion on strategic voting, Opitz accused him of holding a grudge.
“You were defeated. Get over it,” Opitz said.
DeMello and Green Party’s Shawn Rizvi cut through the animosity while confidently defending their respective platforms, but those in attendance came with an arsenal of questions specifically for Opitz and Wrzesnewskyj.
Residents seemed to be losing the most sleep over noisy night flights coming in and out of Pearson airport.
Opitz said he “hears the community, loud and clear” and will continue to advocate for freezing the amount of flights currently in place.
Wrzesnewskyj condemned Optiz for voting in favour of preventing community input in cases of airport expansions.
He said he intends to ban night flights altogether, and suggested Hamilton Inernational Airport, which is surrounded by farmland, take the current flights.
DeMello, meanwhile, pointed out that Pearson has double the amount of night flights that Heathrow airport in London, England has, and that both the Conservative and Liberal governments have let local residents down.
“You didn’t listen to the voices of your people,” she said. “You didn’t result in stopping the increases in flights.”
Discussion of the Trans Pacific Partnership highlighted the division between the Conservatives and Liberals.
Opitz said the TPP gives Canada access to trade with 11 other nations, and that the deal also revises and updates the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“The dairy farmers themselves are happy with this deal,” Opitz said.
His comment was met with a room full of laughter.
“Mr. Opitz, it’s not just this crowd that didn’t believe what you said,” Wrzesnewskyj said. “Most Canadians don’t believe what Stephen Harper is saying about this deal.”
Wrzesnewskyj said Canada should not be signing free trade agreements “willy nilly” around the globe with countries that have vastly different labour and environmental standards.
“We can’t be trading with countries that pay $1 per hour for labour,” he said.
Opitz bore the brunt of most of the criticism in the debate, with people calling him out for spending more than $70,000 since 2011 on promotional flyers for his work as an MP.
Opitz defended his spending, saying flyers help inform constituents.
“They tell you what’s going on in your riding,” he said. “They help me get answers from you.”
Etobicoke Centre has gone back and forth between Conservative and Liberal representation over the years. Following the 2011 election, where Opitz won 41.21 per cent of the vote and Wrzesnewskyj 41.16, the race in this riding is expected to be a tight one.