OLDS - Whichever party ends up forming government following the May 29 provincial vote will hopefully make supporting Alberta’s post-secondary institutions a priority going forward, says Dr. Ben Cecil, president of Olds College of Agriculture and Technology.
Cecil was the moderator at the recent Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills election candidates forum at the TransCanada Theatre.
“I hope they do make it a priority and specifically education that has a direct and immediate impact to the local economy, and that is through the college system,” Cecil said.
“We’ve heard all of the investments that have gone into health care and into the training of the next generation of doctors and nurses. That is absolutely critical and so too is the support for the infrastructure that will continue to build this province and that comes from the career colleges, and specifically community colleges and the trades within the community colleges.”
Candidates Nathan Cooper (UCP), Cheryl Hunter Loewen (NDP) and Katherine Kowalchuk (Independence Party of Alberta) took park in the May 10 forum, outlining their positions on issues and answering questions submitted in writing by audience members.
During the forum, Dr. Cecil himself asked the candidates: “How will your party support public-sector institutions and post-secondary institutions, and specifically Olds College as it is in this riding, as we are facing increased enrolment pressures, a pending demographic upswing, yet we are faced with aging infrastructure in our 110 year old campus.”
Nathan Cooper said the UCP government invested more than $25 million into the college in recent times and “we will continue to advocate for the college. The reality is that the college does an incredible job punching way, way, way above its weight, not just being a leader here in Alberta but being a leader internationally.”
A future UCP government would encourage Olds College partnerships with industry, community and others and “I will continue to be a strong advocate for those partnerships,” he said.
Katherine Kowalchuk said, “Having more conservative leanings, I believe there should be less government involved with respect to these sorts of things. I would agree that we should look to other private partnerships as part of it, but also private industry to be funding these sorts of things and perhaps even in particular certain programs.
“What I would like to see is responsible decision making being made by governments, helping where needed but not as the one-stop-shop for funding for these institutions. It needs to fall on the individuals and the industries who are creating jobs from graduates that are graduating from these programs.”
Cheryl Hunter Loewen said an NDP government would “restore appropriate funding to our post-secondary institutions. If the students can’t afford to come here and they can’t afford to study here, they will not stay here and they will not work here.
“We are going to roll back the tuition increases that were already approved by the UCP government and we are going to cap tuition rates at inflation.”
An NDP government would work to increase the number of medical students graduated in the province, she said.
In an Albertan interview immediately following the forum, Dr. Cecil said supporting post-secondary institutions is vital to the overall well-being of the region and province and something the future government should work towards.
“I want to make sure that we are constantly advocating for the support of our students, which is good for the industries that we serve and for all of the individuals connected to the college and the partners and industries we are supporting,” Cecil said.
“The investments that we have received have been fantastic and they really have contributed to the organization and we want to make sure that we can continue to do that as we see new demands coming forward.”
The college wants to make sure the trades are fully supported going forward, he said.
“That is a huge part of our ability to support the economy, not just in south-central Alberta but in the entire province,” he said.
Olds College is one of the nation's top agricultural post-secondary institutions.
The May 10 candidates forum was co-sponsored by the Olds & District Chamber of Commerce, Rock 104.5, 96.5 CKFM, and Mountain View Publishing Inc.