University of New Brunswick third-year biology student Meriet Gray Miller faced a more extensive than anticipated schedule when he returned to college in Fredericton this year.
In addition to taking on his university study load, the 20-year-old Upper Kent resident agreed to accept the nomination as NDP candidate for the Tobique-Mactaquac riding.
Despite his youth, the 2021 federal election is not Gray Miller's first campaign. He represented the Carleton-Victoria NDP in the 2020 provincial election.
Neither is Gray Miller the youngest candidate on the Tobique-Mactaquac ballot. The Green Party chose 19-year-old Anthony Martin to carry their banner.
"Part of my goal when I ran as a 19-year-old was to get other young people to run," he laughed. "I guess it's working out well."
While his return to university limits his time on the hustings, Gray Miller said he's proud to provide Tobique-Mactaquac with a viable NDP option.
"I think the NDP is offering the best deal for Canadians and the best deal to improve our lives," he said. "It has policies to help Canadians move out of poverty and improve the quality of lives for all Canadians."
Among the many challenges voters now face, Gray Miller said the critical issue, upon which most others issues depend, is recovering from the COVID-induced recession.
"Getting our economy back on track," he said. "How are we going to get money back into people's pockets? How do we pay down the deficit? How do we switch to green energy without losing jobs? The economy and trade are probably the most important issues in this election for a lot of people."
While the debt and deficit present a challenge, Gray Miller believes a lack of productivity hinders Canada compared to other countries, including developing nations.
He said other countries found success by spending heavily on infrastructure, noting that many nations invest five to 10 per cent of their GDP on infrastructure.
"Increasing spending on infrastructure correlates to a pretty rapid increase in GDP. It's better transportation, better communication networks," Gray Miller said. "Get jobs to market quicker. Provides jobs that are more distant, jobs that pay better. More jobs in rural areas."
He said investment in infrastructure is a crucial component of the NDP's economic recovery plan.
While tax increases are part of the NDP plan, he said, lower and middle-income Canadians won't bear the burden.
Gray Miller said his party's focus would be on wealth tax and capital gains, noting Canada's highest earners are not paying their fair share.
"The trouble is, there's a lot of money in Canada that should be spent on public services that are just being hoarded in offshore bank accounts."
While his schedule limited his opportunities to get around the extensive riding to talk to voters, Gray Miller said university life gives him a chance to talk to youth, many of whom are from Tobique-Mactaquac communities.
He said area youth's biggest concern is the lack of a future, with fewer job opportunities and little growth in wages.
"For young and working people, the decreasing affordability and increasing cost of living is a concern," Gray Miller said.
He said health care remains a significant issue for most voters, whether it's concern about access or the cost of prescriptions.
For that reason, Gray Miller fully endorses his party's pharmacare program, which will make easy access to life-saving medicine available to all income groups. He added that a pharmacare program would deliver significant savings to employers.
Gray Miller said the NDP supports the Liberal government's recently released day-care program. Still, his party would like to take it further by providing funds to increase day-care spots and provide other facilities for Canadian children.
He pointed to his small community of Upper Kent as an example, explaining children don't have a public park, basketball court or baseball diamond. He said the NDP wants to provide more educational and recreational opportunities for children, wherever they live.
Gray Miller said Indigenous rights need to be near the top of the priority list in Tobique-Mactaquac, noting four First Nations are in or near the riding.
In addition to acting upon the Truth and Reconciliation report recommendations, Gray Miller said the NDP would support First Nation communities.
"The Liberals don't do it because they don't want to, because there's no money to be made in it. The reserves that are getting the most amount of money are those who agree to play nicely with the Liberal government. The ones who agree invest it in business opportunities the Liberals enjoy. Not water treatment plants."
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun