MP Megan Leslie says student movements work

Exclusive: Leslie says she wishes she could be here Feb. 2

Friday, January 28. 2011- The Dalhousie Gazette

Samantha Durnford, News Editor

Dalhousie Gazette: How do you feel about the Student Day of Action?

Megan Leslie: Oh, I think it’s great! I’m very sad I won’t be here. Parliament sits on Jan .31, so I’ll be in Ottawa and I’m sad that I can’t help out. I think it sends a message on where you stand on a political issue or policy. It’s also a great way to spread your message and educate other people who want to get involved.

DG: What implications can the Day of Action have on the government?

ML: I don’t think any rally or day of action or protest is a silver bullet. I mean, you don’t have a protest and poof laws change, but it’s part of an on-going struggle to have your voice heard and have your country’s law reflect what you want.

So, having a rally can, for example, get media attention which means people will read about it and if they read about it maybe they’ll write a letter, and someone else can read it and decide they want to do something. Protests are really important and I think they work, but they only work if there’s a greater community or grassroots campaign to go along with it.

DG: What are your thoughts on the O’Neill report?

ML: I haven’t read it. It’s a provincial issue and I haven’t been involved in it.

As far as the federal aspect on post-secondary education, what we’re working on in the NDP is a Post-Secondary Act that would transfer money to the provinces and guarantee stable funding and protect principles of accessibility and quality. So, that’s how we’re looking at post-secondary education. It’s a provincial issue but the feds can be involved if they take a leadership role in funding.

We introduced the Act before the last election, before 2008, but we haven’t re introduced it this session because we’re still tweaking it and working with student groups and educators to try and improve it a bit. Hopefully, we’ll be able to introduce it soon.

DG: What is the best thing students can do to make a change?

ML: Nothing ever is the clincher, no one thing is ever the clincher. I think if you really want to see change on a particular issue, getting involved is the way to go, and there are a lot of different ways to get involved: student government, meeting with your MLA, hold a teach-in, and just get informed on the issue.

Getting informed will allow you to have an opinion and then you can be as creative as you want to be and you can spread your message. It adds to the collective movement and the grass-roots movement and I think those movements do work.

DG: Does the government hear students?

ML: Absolutely. In our Post-Secondary Education Act, we had to try and get around the issue that education is a provincial issue but we had so many conversations with student activists and students with huge debt that we knew we had to figure out something.

It comes directly from the fact that students have been in contact with us and started conversations saying, “look, we can’t afford school anymore.”

Definitely: government listens.

DG: How do you feel about the fact that food banks are opening and students can’t afford school?

ML: I’m not that far away from it. I graduated from Dalhousie Law School and I understand it. I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit it but when I got into law school, I didn’t realize how hard it would be financially, and after a couple weeks in, I had to call my parents and figure out how to make it work.

I thought I couldn’t make it work and I thought I was going to have to quit school because I figured I couldn’t do it financially. There’s students across Canada making that decision every day and there’s students that don’t even apply because they don’t think that they can afford it or get the assistance they need. We’re losing such incredibly smart and talented people who want to go to school who don’t even bother applying because they don’t think they can afford it.

DG: Where you involved in any protests growing up?

ML: Oh my God, yes. I staged my first protest when I was 15 and it was just me and my best friend protesting in front of town hall.

I mean, I’ve moved onto bigger ones! To give the student movement some credit in Nova Scotia, there has been a tuition freeze and I’m not saying that’s the be-all-end-all, but that would never have happened without pressure of students.

If you don’t use your voice, then it’s not that people aren’t listening to you: it’s that there’s no voice to listen to at all.

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