The University of Winnipeg (U of W) makes its home in the Union Station riding. With the Oct. 3 provincial election fast approaching, the riding’s candidates are making their pitches to students and community members on a variety of issues at the ballot box. The Union Station riding contains 12,699 registered voters, according to Elections Manitoba, and encompasses most of downtown.
Uzoma Asagwara, the riding’s New Democratic Party (NDP) incumbent and Iqra Tariq, the Manitoba Liberal Party’s challenger, both spoke to The Uniter for this article. The Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate is Aaron Croning. A spokesperson from the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba did not reply to requests for comment.
Access to healthcare
Healthcare is becoming increasingly inaccessible for Manitobans. There is a province-wide shortage of doctors, nurses and hospital beds, along with long emergency-room wait times.
For international students, this issue is intensified due to the high health-insurance rates tacked onto their already-long lists of living, education and travel expenses.
In 2018, the Province repealed universal healthcare for international students, in order to save an estimated $3.1 million dollars a year.
Depending on their length of studies, international students at the U of W pay around $1,375 per academic year for mandatory Manitoba Blue Cross and University of Winnipeg Students’ Association Greenshield insurance (not including the extra $1.65 per day for Guard.me insurance, which offers extended coverage).
For full-time undergraduate domestic students, the UWSA health plan, which offers extended health, dental and vision benefits, costs $501.60 per academic year.
Asagwara, a U of W alum, says the NDP plans to restore universal healthcare for international students if elected.
“We want to make sure that international students can stay healthy, focus on school and are motivated to stay in Manitoba” they say.
The Liberals have also promised to reinstate healthcare coverage for international students and increase the number of family physicians to ensure that every Manitoban has access to one. As a pharmacy assistant working in Union Station, Tariq has seen students and non-students alike struggle with accessing a family doctor.
On Sept. 18, the PCs promised to spend $30 million a year to recruit more healthcare workers. On Sept.19, Radisson candidate James Teitsma promised more healthcare services at pharmacies to ensure accessibility and offset the demands on doctors’ offices and clinics. However, these promises may ring hollow to voters who have watched the PCs gut Manitoba’s healthcare system during their past seven years in power, creating the mess all three parties are currently pledging to fix.
Along with medical care, the NDP wants to ensure that youth have access to the mental healthcare services they need. The party hopes to listen to and work closely with healthcare providers, mental healthcare providers and frontline mental healthcare workers, according to Asagwara.
“(Our plan is to) take steps alongside them ... in making the right investments and decisions to strengthen mental healthcare and services for young people in Manitoba,” they say.
The Liberals have also pledged to provide accessible mental-health support. The party aims to make mental healthcare free under Medicare by covering the costs of regulated psychotherapy and adding mental-health training to expand coverage.
Tariq, a University of Manitoba alum, especially wants meaningful mental healthcare that takes the culturally diverse students and residents of Union Station into account.
“Having healthcare in place that is meaningful, culturally competent, inclusive and (factors in) the diversity that is within Union Station and the types of students that live there ... is really important to me,” she says. She stresses that international students have a unique set of obstacles, such as acclimating to a new environment, as well as familial and cultural expectations.
Tuition continues to increase as much as 2.75 per cent, affordable housing is scarce, and the cost of living is increasing, with the inflation rate up 2.6 per cent in Manitoba as of July 2023.
One of the ways the NDP hopes to make life more affordable is by increasing the tax credit for renters to $700 dollars from the current $525.
The party also plans on strengthening renters’ rights and ensuring there are no more above-guideline rent increases by landlords, a frequent problem this year.
“Students shouldn’t also have to worry about housing security when they’re getting their education,” Asagwara says.
Tariq, a former president of the University of Manitoba Muslim Students’ Association, says the Liberals plan to reinstate the tuition rebate program, which offers a 60 per cent rebate on tuition when students begin working in Manitoba, to encourage students to stay in the province.
Advance polling for the Manitoba provincial election opens Sept. 23. Election-day polls will be open Tuesday, Oct. 3. For more information, visit electionsmanitoba.ca.
Published in Volume 78, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 21, 2023)