Neev Tarpiero, Rye grad and political candidate. Photo: Simon Hayter

Pot advocate skips debate on home turf

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By Wojteck Dabrowski

A Ryerson theatre grad running as a Marijuana Party candidate in the Nov. 27 federal election may have watched his chance to win key student votes go up in smoke after missing an all-candidates meeting on campus.

Neev Tapiero, 28, who graduated from Ryerson’s theatre production program in 1997, is disappointed he couldn’t attend the Oakham House meeting because he was at a weekend marijuana convention in Montreal. In a Tuesday interview, he said he could not return to Toronto in time for the 12 p.m. debate.

“Students tend to be very positive [about our issues], which is why I regret not being able to attend the debate,” Tapiero said.

The frontman for the federal pot party in the Toronto Centre-Rosedale riding has been rolling in grass-related issues for about five years. He says his area of expertise is decriminalizing marijuana use for medical purposes.

Although many voters may not take the Marijuana Party seriously, Tapiero believes his part does have a valid platform. He said taxed from the sale of marijuana could be used to fund postsecondary education. He also believes legalizing the drug would make Canada a “kinder, gentler place.”

“There would be [less] crime, fewer police, fewer jails and fewer judges,” he said. “Incarceration would no longer be a growth industry.”

Seven of the nine candidates running in the federal riding of Toronto Centre-Rosedale did show up to Monday’s debate to speak before an audience of about 40 Ryerson students and area residents. The only other candidate not in attendance was David Gordon of the Natural Law Party.

Predictably, universities and education were at the forefront of each party’s agenda. All of the candidates stressed the importance of students in Canada’s future and all promised to help make education better.

While New Democratic Party candidate David Berlin proposed a return to 1995 tuition levels, Danny Goldstick of the Communist Party called for an end to students paying tuition altogether, although he admitted he probably won’t get the chance to deliver that promise.

“We know the election is pretty well settled,” Goldstick said. “The Liberals will sweep it.”

When a student asked how each candidate gelt about Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ move for university privatization, the panel grew feisty.

“Let’s make something perfectly clear. I’m no Mike Harris Tory,” said Progressive Conservative candidate Randall Pearce, when the audience hissed at the mention of Harris’ name.

“I’m a very strong supporter of public education,” Pearce said, raising his voice. “That’s why I’m such an opponent of this Liberal government that has gutted the postsecondary education.”

Liberal candidate Graham, wearing a Liberal-red sweater, said his party has worked to help students.

“Scholarships, grants and others are all directed toward allowing Ryerson students greater access to this very important university,” he said.

The PC’s Pearce, meanwhile, said he would fight to increase funding to universities and make Ottawa realize how expensive it is for students to live in Toronto.

Canadian Alliance candidate Richard Walker said and Alliance government would immediately put $800-million into postsecondary education, and that Ryerson would get its share. Walker also said that by generating business, jobs and wealth in the riding, the student situation at Ryerson would improve.

Marxist-Leninist candidate Philip Fernandez said one of his concerns is the large population of poor children living in Ryerson’s riding. “That’s not going to get any better with the kind of cuts that have come to education,” he said. “If you had the decision-making power, what would you do to improve the situation for students at Ryerson?”

Paul Hellyer, the stone-faced Canadian Action Party candidate, didn’t seem to have much of a stance on education, focusing instead on Canada-U.S. relations. He said Canada is being sold out to American interests under the North America Free-Trade Agreement. “We’re losing out country,” Hellyer said. “Is our future going to be defined by Nike, Disney and Wal-Mart?”


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