STRATFORD, P.E.I. - Last fall’s commitment of provincial funding for the construction of a new high school is certainly on the minds of voters in Mermaid-Stratford.
Several voters reached by The Guardian suggested last November’s inclusion of funding for the Stratford school in a provincial capital budget may have been calculated to favour Liberal candidates.
NDP candidate Lawrence Millar said the school had been a key local priority for a long time. But he was unsure how much of an advantage the announced school will give Liberal candidate Randy Cooper.
“The high school piece certainly won’t do them any harm,” Millar said, referring to the Liberals.
Millar said all parties are likely to see the school as a positive development. He said the NDP’s education plan will focus on ensuring there is quality, affordable education from daycare to the university level.
Cooper said his priority, if elected, would be to go even further. He said an intermediate school is also needed in Stratford.
"Now that we have the commitment of the high school, it's to get the junior high and ensure that there's enough space up here for the primary and secondary school to make sure we can handle the numbers," Cooper said.
The town is currently narrowing down possible sites for the high school. When asked why the province has not already allocated funding to construct both the intermediate school, along with the high school, Cooper said Birchwood Intermediate in Charlottetown effectively functions as a school for Stratford students.
He said he believed the province likely decided to commit only to the high school because it was fiscally responsible.
PC candidate Mary Ellen McInnis said the planned school has come up in her conversations with voters, and said she believed an intermediate school will be necessary. But she said she has not heard voters raise it as a reason that could sway voters in favour of the Liberals.
"There are other concerns for people in the district as well," McInnis said, adding the ongoing shortage of affordable housing is likely the top issue she hears voters raising at the door.
"The government certainly needs to do more to help people find affordable housing, whether it's seniors, young families or whoever it is."
Green candidate Michele Beaton said she has heard parents raise the overpopulation of Charlottetown schools from local voters. But she also said she has heard issues related to seniors, affordable housing and land use raised with equal frequency.
She said the lack of affordable housing is affecting a wide swath of the population.
"It's a grave concern. It's not just in one demographic. It's straight across the board that people have been bringing that up."