It can be challenging to find a forum where Bedford-area council candidates can answer questions about student issues, says Ryan Nearing, Mount Saint Vincent Student Union President.
“We wanted to make sure there was debate specifically for the candidates around the Bedford area so Mount students, who tend to be removed from the downtown core of Halifax, that our voices are properly heard as well,” says Nearing.
This week at Vinnie’s Pub, the Mount’s campus bar, candidates and councillors from districts 10, 11 and 12 discussed student issues such as transit and how they will deal with student needs if they are elected.
“Students across Halifax really need to know that we have a city council as a whole is fighting for us,” says Charlotte Kiddell, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia.
Engaging students is difficult, some candidates admitted. Students don’t often come to municipal meetings.
For students to get involved, Nearing believes that politicians need to find ways to “show that issues that matter to students also matter to them.”
Andrew Curran, candidate for District 10, and Stephen Adams, the councillor for District 11, came out in favour of creating a youth advisory committee that would involve young people in municipal decisions.
District 12 candidate Scott Guthrie stressed that he wants to meet with student governments, from universities, high schools and even junior high schools, “not just talking to them, but listening to them because they have fabulous ideas of how they can help this city grow.”
Transportation is another important issue for students in the Bedford area. Many students use buses as their primary way of getting around and a commute across town can take a long time.
Bruce Holland, candidate for District 12, says transit has been a top concern he’s encountered during his campaign.
“Someone who’s living in Clayton Park or Timberlea and they’re trying to get to Nova Scotia Community College Waterfront campus over in Dartmouth, it’s extremely difficult.”
Curran is vocal about the need for Bus Rapid Transit, which gives dedicated lanes to buses.
“It’ll take you maybe 15 minutes to get from (the Mount) to downtown during rush hour,” says Curran.
“When everyone else sitting in traffic for 45 or 50 minutes see these folks driving by, then perhaps they’ll be inclined to leave their vehicles at home and help our environment.”
A light rail service, from Bedford into the Via Rail station downtown, has been discussed by council for several years.
“Halifax is a city that was designed for horse and buggies: it wasn’t designed for a lot of cars and a lot of buses,” says Holland.
He says the rail system could take thousands of cars off the road every day, which is good for others getting around the municipality, as well as the environment.
All candidates and councillors present were in favour of the light rail system.
“Via Rail is anxious and ready to go: all we have to have is the money,” says Russell Walker, the District 10 councillor. “If the stars line up, it’ll be here faster than the rapid transit bus system in the city. It’s not far off.”