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Students press Federal candidates on climate change, tuition and affordability

October 18, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Kira Wronska Dorward

On the morning of Tuesday, October 8, the students of Banting Memorial High School gathered in the school cafeteria to hear an All Candidates Debate by local candidates organized by the Grade 12 Politics class that was enlightening for students and adults alike – and far more professional than the televised federal debate the night before.

“Everyone’s anxious about this election,” remarked Conservative candidate Terry Dowdall in his opening remarks, and none more so than the future generation of voters. The anxiety in this election seems to emanate from climate change issues, which were the first and foremost topics to be addressed by students and candidates alike.

In contrast to stereotypes, these students, still not yet of voting age, are actively engaged and concerned about the issues facing them as Canadians now and in the future. These students are challenging preconceived notions the older population might have about the younger generation not caring or being too self-involved to follow politics. “I think it’s part of a mindset older people have that somehow our opinions are not as valid,” says student organizer Abby McGowan. “I like to stay informed, and I think we got a lot of people on the floor, which is the main goal here.”

All four large party candidates – Lorne Kenney for the Liberal Party, Terry Dowdall for the Conservatives, IIona Matthews for the NDP, and Sherri Jackson for the Green Party – came prepared to answer the very serious questions students had spent three weeks preparing by examining each political platform.

Although a formal panel of three students initially led with prepared questions on such hot button topics as agriculture, trade, the Trans-Canada Pipeline, reducing the cost of living, affordable housing, post-secondary education costs, student loans, Indigenous rights, development, and reducing the number of families living under the poverty

line, ad-hoc questions from the student body were taken later in the debate.

Lorne Kenney started off the session with a heartfelt opening statement, “I’m also a grandfather. And I got really, really concerned about the quality of Earth that we leave behind when we go, and I thought, I will use that time, for my purpose.”

The main premise of Ilona Mathews’ and the NDP’s platform was a promise to lower the voting age to sixteen. “Our party, the NDP,” she extrapolated, “believes that the youth of today has a voice that must be heard, whether it is on the environment, education, or quality of life. We will make post-secondary education free, because you all deserve the opportunity to be successful without getting into debt for the next few decades of your lives. Being well educated is important, because you will be the caretakes of the Earth for future generations.”

The Green Party’s Sherri Jackson opened by stating, “I, like other participants on the panel, am very concerned about the future of the planet, and what we are leaving behind for you in particular…It is critically important to me as a parent that I take steps to ensure that their future is secure, and, as a result, that means all of you are part of that future as well. You have another 70 to 80, to possibly 90 future years to live on this planet, my time is much less than that. I think it is critical over the next four years that we mandate that there is a dramatic and serious decisive action taken to address climate crisis. I’m here to take that action, I’m here to represent the Green Party, and as a result I’m here to represent all of you as well. I see the future in you, and I’m here to fight for your future.”

Terry Dowdall, who listed his long years in politics, stated, “I’m here now because I too have two daughters in university and one in Grade 7, and I want to make sure they have the opportunities we all had…so there’s many things, so many people are anxious about this election…we want to make sure that when you get out, you have the opportunity to live the dream. Our party has a full platform and I’m looking forward to hearing all the questions today.”

Each candidate had 45 seconds to answer questions, of which there were many both from the student panel and those in the audience. While all the questions and topics were pertinent, one question posed by Jacob Armstrong, perhaps most pressing to high school students in general, was how the NDP planned to find the money to fulfill tuition and interest-free loan promises with Canada’s immense debt.

While NDP candidate Matthews muddled through an answer to this pointed question, it was clear from her answer and others like it that the finer details behind these promises had yet to be worked through. Terry Dowdall answered the same question with, “let’s leave some money in your pocket [when you graduate] so you can tackle those bills.”

Another question posed by a student was how each party planned to address the ongoing issues with Indigenous rights.

“It’s critically important we address those issues immediately,” responded Sherri Jackson. “We do not have more time to waste waiting. It’s unacceptable.”

When asked about policies to lift families above the poverty line, Liberal Candidate Lorne Kenney responded with naming programs already in place such as the Canada Child Benefit, and the new plan to help first time home owners with buying a house with reduced interest rates, as well as cutting tax benefits that serve the wealthy to redistribute to those of lesser means.

Coming around back to climate change, Kenney made a compelling analogy about how our house is already on fire, three firetrucks full of water are here to put out the flames, then looking explicitly at Dowdall, he concluded, “and his is filled with gasoline.”

Following the debate, Question Moderator Erik Kowalinski, who maintains a keen interest in politics he plans to pursue in university and beyond, was among those challenging the idea that young people “just don’t care.”

“Youth voter turnout has actually been on the rise since 2011,” he reminds us. “There are always ongoing issues in politics and in the democratic field. It’s very important to Canadian core values…I’ve always wanted to have a say.”

When asked how he felt the debate went, Kowalinski felt that there was some “misunderstanding of the questions” by some of the candidates, and that some of their answers were skewed towards party values and beliefs they felt to be more important than the actual issues. “Some candidates were also dodging questions,” he thought. As far as voting, “just get out there and have a role in democracy. People have fought (and died) for these rights and freedoms. If you have the opportunity, take it.”


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