During Penticton Senior Secondary’s all candidates forum at the Shatford Centre on Oct. 13, those running for a seat in the riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay had to share their philosophies with a much younger crowd than they’re normally used to.
The biggest talking points of this election such as tax rates and the niqab were largely ignored, while concerns of post secondary tuition, a lower voting age and the legality of weed were on the forefront. After hearing from the parties that showed up, students will be participating in a mock election to see who they would choose as their Member of Parliament.
It was only representatives from the Liberal Party, NDP and an independent who attended, so the audience only received a slanted version of their electoral options, as Conservative candidate Marshall Neufeld chose not to attend, and Green candidate Samantha Troy had to cancel last minute due to “conflicts of scheduling and proximity.”
“I was very disappointed that the Conservative candidate could not be represented at the actual forum,” said Grade 11 student Eli Nelson, who was one of four student panelists for the debate. “The Green Party representative was stung by a wasp and had medical reasons not to attend.”
Nelson said he contacted the Conservative Party to ask why their candidate refused to attend.
“I was given a long, drawn-out excuse about representing different parts in the riding, and how they don’t want to participate in any all-candidates forums in October because they want to get to as many people as possible, which I don’t understand because an all candidate forum would be getting to as many people as possible.”
Grade 11 student Cassandra Bruce said she doesn’t agree much with the Conservative Party policies, but admits those criticisms are largely based on what she hears in the news and from opposition parties, and was disappointed that Neufeld couldn’t defend those criticisms.
Had he participated, Neufeld would have been the only candidate defending the criminalization of marijuana – Liberal candidate Denesiuk, independent candidate Brian Gray and NDP candidate Cannings’ opinions on the issue only differed marginally.
“It didn’t work with alcohol, it doesn’t work with marijuana,” said Denesiuk. “I asked a number of students, some maybe from this school, what is easier to get – cigarettes or marijuana? Without exception, every young person told me it’s much easier to get marijuana.”
Under an NDP government, “people wouldn’t be given criminal records and thrown in jail for having small amounts of recreational marijuana. It’s just ridiculous,“ Cannings said. “What we would do is take a public health approach to concerns about marijuana, just as we do with alcohol and cigarettes.
Gray said he’s against the legalization of the plant, but in favour of decriminalizing it. He doesn’t take issue with people growing it in their backyards or closets, but wants to see an end to “massive grow-ops,” and said his views align most with Cannings.
The three candidates at the forum were also in unison when it came to lowering the voting age to 16, though there was a slight reservation. Denesiuk said her party is seriously considering a push to lower the voting age, though she believes there should be a prerequisite process to effectively inform young voters – a process that should be similar to Pen High’s forum and mock election.
“We let 16 year olds drive cars and we let 17 year olds join the military and put their lives on the line,” Cannings said. “I don’t have anything against lowering the age to 16. When I go door knocking, I meet a lot of adults and I would rather have an engaged 16 year old voting than some of them.”
Gray asked for a show of hands as to who would like to see a younger voting age, and about half the people in the room raised their hand. He believes Canada is ready to lower the voting age to 16.
As an independent, Gray didn’t speak confidently about his chances of wining the election, but advised voters to be cognizant of an imminent financial collapse among Western nations, and said it’s important to demand that the winning candidate supports a reform to Canada’s banking system.
The Western News will follow up on results from the student election upon conclusion.