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This article was published 21/3/2016 (460 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Philip Kawalec can’t cast a ballot in the upcoming provincial election, but that doesn’t mean he’s not passionate about politics.
The Grade 12 student is the founder of Sisler High School student group Sisler’s Political Youth. SPY hosted a political forum on youth issues on March 16 in the school’s library.
Participating in the forum were Progressive Conservative candidate for
Burrows Rae Wagner, NDP candidate for Burrows and current MLA Melanie Wight, Green Party leader James Beddome, Communist Party leader Darrell Rankin and Liberal candidate for Burrows Cindy Lamoureux.
Kawalec, a Grade 12 student, started SPY in Grade 10 as a way to increase political literacy and civic engagement in Sisler. In addition to the provincial candidates forum, SPY has held similar events during the recent federal and municipal elections.
As mentioned eariler, Kawalec can’t vote on April 19 — he doesn’t turn 18 until May — but he’s doing his darndest to ensure that his voting age peers do.
"A lot of people say ‘I don’t know who to vote for, I don’t want to vote’ or ‘I don’t have time in my day’. But, it’s not something you can just give up, it’s something you have a duty to do, a responsibility to do," Kawalec said.
"When I hear (those excuses), it makes me sad inside, a little bit mad even, and that’s why I started SPY. I feel in order for the students to get engaged, for that passion to grow, they have to hear from the candidates. I’ll be realistic; very few people of my age are going to take the time out of their evening to go to a forum somewhere, so instead of making them go to politics, we’re bringing the politics to them."
The participants were provided four questions in advance of the forum. The questions covered the economy, racism, mental health and public housing.
"These questions were all from the students," Kawalec said. "They do have these questions brewing in their minds, they just don’t really know how to access the
The scripted nature of the questions resulted in quite scripted answers, with
Wagner being the most by the book, referring to her notes almost exclusively. Wight and Beddome, while prepared, were most skilled at shooting from the hip, especially on the topics of racism and mental health.
While she didn’t deny the existence or impact of racism, Lamoureux’s answer as to how she and her party will combat prejudice was puzzling.
Lamoureux, a Sisler graduate and the daughter of Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux, told the audience that during her time in high school, she didn’t experience or see racism. She didn’t offer any real possible policies or solutions she’d explore if elected.
While not a debate, the forum did feature few little jabs here and there.
When talking on the topic of public housing, Wight took a shot at the PCs stating "The last time the PCs were in power there was not one unit of affordable housing built in Manitoba."
Rankin also got in a couple decent punches.
For instance, after Wight stated that Manitoba has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, Rankin pointed out that the Labour Force Survey doesn’t gather unemployment statistics on First Nations reserves and that the province’s actual jobless rate is much higher.
The point that seemed to excite the students the most — beyond Lamoureux’s invitation to a free pizza party — was the Green Party’s plan to lower the voting age to 16.
"There are a lot of studies that show that those people that vote early become habitual voters for the rest of their lives. So if we use the school system to leverage it, I think there are some great opportunities," Beddome told The Times.