Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP), was at a meet and greet event at the University of Alberta when a disruption protesting his platform occurred.
The event, called “Pints, Pool, and Politics,” took place in Dewey’s on March 6 at 6:30 p.m. Hosted by the United Conservatives at the U of A student club, Kenney spoke at the event with students, MLAs, and other community members who came.
In an interview with The Gateway, Kenney said he was excited to be at the university, and that post-secondary education policy is important to his party.
He added that two key priorities for his party are providing universities with stable long-term funding, and working with institutions to ensure students have jobs after they graduate.
“We are committed to stable funding for our post-secondary institutions,” he said. “We want to work with our colleges and universities to make sure that we are getting better labour market outcomes, by which I mean connecting education to jobs.”
“There are too many unemployed youths in Alberta,” Kenney said. “Youth unemployment has been going up… A lot of those folks have university degrees but no jobs. Our number one focus is economic opportunity”
He said the party would like to see more embedded work experience initiatives within university degrees, and opportunities for students to participate in co-op programs.
Kenney added that the UCP will be releasing its policies on post-secondary education in the next few weeks, where more specific details will be given.
The event occurred on the same day voting for Students’ Union elections began. One of the issues that emerged on the campaign trail was voluntary student unionism (VSU). The Students’ Union collects $193.36 per year in membership fees and dedicated funding fees for groups and services on campus from every full-time U of A undergraduate student on North Campus and Campus Saint-Jean.
A United Conservative Party (UCP) policy states they support making current mandatory students’ union fees voluntary.
Kenney told The Gateway that the party has “not made a decision yet” on VSUs.
“I am interested to hear what people say about [VSU],” he said. “I do not have a closed mind about it.”
“At the very least student unions have to demonstrate to students that they are getting value for their dues,” Kenney added.
Anti-Kenney “disruption” breaks out halfway through the event
At around 7:45 p.m., a “disruption” broke out with students chanting and holding signs, protesting the UCP and Kenney. It lasted for around seven minutes and all those who participated walked out of the event immediately after.
Some protesters chanted “UCP has got to go” while others said, “GSA’s save lives.”
During the disruption, students and community members speaking with Kenney started chanting “Let’s build a pipeline.”
Amelia Deneka, a fourth-year biology student and one of the organizers of the disruption, said they brought a group of people to the event in order to highlight the concerns they have over UCP policy, like issues with gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and environmental concerns about pipelines.
“[We want] to make our views visible and creating a bit of a disruption,” Deneka said. “Our plan is to get up there… to show there are people who are not on board with the way politics are going in Alberta.”
Andrew Marklund, president of the United Conservatives at the U of A and a third-year engineering student, said the event is to ultimately help students engage with ideas.
Marklund added they have been trying to get Kenney on campus for half a year. According to him, around 100 students registered to attend the event.
“This event is definitely a two-way street,” he said. “We want students to hear ideas and leaders like Kenney to hear what students have to say.”
— With files from Nathan Fung