Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wascana Conservative candidate & former Sask. Party president Michelle Hunter skips university debate; website promotes measly textbook tax credit

Wascana Conservative Party candidate Michelle Hunter is the latest Tory to come under fire for deciding to skip a debate.

The Leader-Post reported on Sept. 30 that the former Saskatchewan Party president was not planning to participate in a debate at the University of Regina on Oct. 1 and an Oct. 2 forum at Dr. Martin LeBoldus High School.

Hunter’s campaign manager and husband, Brad Hunter, said the decision not to attend the school events was simply a matter of scheduling.

Michelle Hunter said in a phone call to the Leader-Post that it’s just not possible to go to everything.

“Every day we get so many requests to attend and participate in different events that we’ve kind of had to pick and choose what we’re doing and where we’re going. We picked the two debates that had the broadest exposure,” Hunter said. [Tory candidate to skip university debate (Leader-Post, Sept. 30, 2008)]

Hunter also said she has been visiting the university to hear student concerns, and will continue to do so until the Oct. 14 vote. Wandering around campus playing it safe shaking hands and passing out pamphlets is not nearly the same as being available to answer tough and challenging questions from students in a public forum. Surely, the students will see this for what it is.

Hunter is instead planning to attend the Business and Professional Women’s Organization (BPW) Regina event on Oct. 3 and the Wascana riding debate that will be televised by Access Communications.

The Wascana debate will be broadcast live on Oct. 9 at 8 pm on Channel 7.

In partnership with Access Communications the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Regina REALTORS Inc., and the Regina & Region Home Builders’ Association will be co-producing the forum.

Regina Chamber of Commerce CEO John Hopkins will lead the candidates in a discussion on issues with an opportunity for candidates to respond to questions from the studio audience and public via telephone and email.

The blatantly top heavy business involvement in the forum leaves a lot to be desired and could no doubt end up favouring Hunter and the Conservative Party.

Access Communications, it should be noted, is a supporter of the Saskatchewan Party. According to the party’s financial statements filed annually with Elections Saskatchewan the non-profit service co-operative appears to have contributed nearly $42,000 to the party since 2001.

Federal records filed with Elections Canada appear to show that Access Communications president and CEO Jim Deane donated $400 to Palliser Conservative MP Dave Batters in Dec. 2005 and $400 in June 2004. He also appears to have contributed $901.69 to the Saskatchewan Party in 2006.

The wife of Dave Batters, Denise, is a director of Access Communications and is chief of staff to Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan.

Perhaps another reason why Michelle Hunter decided not to take part in the university debate is because the Conservative Party’s record on post-secondary education is lousy.

On the party’s website under “Key Issues” education is not listed. In the Speech from the Throne and Budget 2008 it is absent as well.

In a new book published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) called The Harper Record that gives a detailed account of the laws, policies, regulations, and initiatives of the Conservative minority government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper during its 32-month term from January 2006 to September 2008, Hugh Mackenzie, an Economist and a research associate with the CCPA, wrote: “With respect to post-secondary education, the message from the [Conservative] government has been inconsistent. On one hand, it identified post-secondary education as one of the few areas of provincial jurisdiction in which it sees the federal government playing a role. At the same time, it is allowing the 2004 Budget’s funding for post-secondary to expire without replacement and has announced that the Millennium Scholarship Foundation will be wound up in 2010 with no sign of a replacement.” [The Harper Record, p. 439]

In the same book contributors Julie White and Michael McBane said in a separate chapter that: “Since October 2007, the Conservative government has committed to $60 billion in tax cuts through to 2012. Corporations in particular have had a bonanza of government support, with tax cuts that will reduce their tax payments by one-third from 2006 to 2012. The latest budget of February 2008 deepened the erosion of public finances, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty boasted that he had reduced to the level they were at 50 years ago. He did mention that 50 years ago there was no national Medicare, no Canada/Quebec Pension Plan, and no subsidized post-secondary education.” [The Harper Record, p. 350]

There seems to be little mention of post-secondary education on Michelle Hunter’s website. One Conservative news release from Sept. 8, 2008, boasts in the headline: Canadian families better off with Harper.

It proudly talks about the government’s “new textbook tax credit, effective January 1, 2006, to help students pay for their costs of their education.”

The Textbook Tax Credit for the 2006 and subsequent years is a non-refundable credit at the lowest personal tax rate applied to: $65 for each month a student qualifies for the full-time education tax credit amount; and $20 for each month a student qualifies for the part-time education tax credit amount.

What it means is that if your income is so low that you do not owe federal personal income tax, the credits will not benefit you. Hunter’s website doesn’t mention that.

According to the article Answering to students (Leader-Post, Oct. 2, 2008) Hunter did send a statement that was read aloud at the much-anticipated political forum at the University of Regina. In it, Hunter expressed regret for not being able to make it because of election scheduling.

She also noted that the Conservatives have done a lot to assist students in their 2 1/2 years as government.

“We are committed to putting money back in the hands of students,” she said in the statement.

Unfortunately, Hunter’s website does not appear to provide any details to support these claims.


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