Urban students face trek to budget meetings

Finance minister says deficit meetings aren't going to be held in downtown Halifax

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It’s not going to be easy for students in Halifax to be part of the province’s talk on how to reduce the deficit.

Finance Minister Graham Steele has planned 23 meetings in 16 communities to get public feedback on how to improve the government's finances.

If nothing is done the province’s budget will reach a $1.4-billion deficit in three year’s time, Steele says.

The closest the meetings will get to Halifax proper is Dartmouth North and Lower Sackville.

“Traditionally people from outlying areas have always been expected to come into the peninsula for meetings and this time, we’re just going out to those communities,” says Steele, “I know that people on the peninsula can find their way out to those communities.”

Finding their way isn’t the problem.

Lots of Halifax residents, especially students, don’t have access to vehicles.

“We were pretty shocked when we found out that there would be no consultations in Halifax,” says Rebecca Rose, the Maritime manager for the Canadian Federation of Students.

By focusing on one disenfranchised group of the population, Rose says, the government is ignoring another.

“Considering that many students don’t have access to a vehicle, getting to the consultations in outlying areas would be pretty difficult,” Rose says.

The finance minister says he doesn’t think it’s true that students don’t have access to the meetings.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to point to one particular group or another that may have difficulty getting to the meetings,” says Steele.

Steele also pointed out that students can participate in other ways, such as the government’s finance website and through meetings that will be scheduled with the province’s MLAs.

Rose says that isn’t enough.

“I think it’s slightly hypocritical to say that they can’t keep certain groups of people in mind when scheduling consultations,” says Rose, referring to the fact the meetings are scheduled to cater to the rural population.

“I think they should be trying to keep students in mind; there’s a huge population of students in this province. We are the future of the province after all,” says Rose.

The Canadian Federation of Students will be organizing transportation to the Dartmouth North and Lower Sackville meetings for students who wish to participate.

A Halifax meeting isn’t entirely out of the picture though.

Steele says they haven’t finalized the meeting schedule, and said “we may” still hold one in downtown Halifax.

But it doesn’t seem likely.

“There’s just a physical limit to how many meetings we can hold because everybody wants one right in their backyard,” says Steele, “It’s just not possible.”

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