Not many in the room were old enough to vote, but Brandon-Souris federal candidates made their pitch for young people’s future to the student crowd at a École secondaire Neelin High School candidates forum on Tuesday afternoon.
Students from Grade 11 and Grade 9 social studies and history classes at Neelin asked candidates a range of questions from how their parties would make post-secondary education more affordable to how best to get young people engaged in politics.
Green party candidate Bill Tiessen said his party’s plan to make university and college more affordable centres on making post-secondary education free and forgiving student debt. This would give students a major boost in their lives and careers.
Conservative candidate Larry Maguire said one of the most important things his party pitched is to boost the amount of money the federal government contributes to registered education savings plans.
"We know that the most important thing we can do as government is to help our young people become well educated. It’s great that you’re getting your high school right here at Neelin today, but there’s opportunities that you’re being prepared for in the rest of your lives," Maguire said.
People’s party candidate Rob Lussier said his party’s plan on post-secondary affordability centres on making life in general more affordable and lowering taxes. He said a federal government led by the PPC would balance the federal budget in two years, which would leave more money for education instead of going toward debt interest payments.
Liberal candidate Terry Hayward said his party has already made it easier to pay for post-secondary education over the past four years of being in government by reducing interest on student loans and pushing back the date when people have to start repaying them.
Christian Heritage Party candidate Rebecca Hein lamented that many educational fields have become about pushing a social agenda, including topics like gender fluidity. The party would fund universities and colleges for careers that allow for family life.
Young people’s political engagement was also a major topic students raised. All candidates on the stage praised the young people who were already paying attention to the election but said more should be taking an active role.
Both Hayward and Tiessen said the voting age should be dropped to 16 years old from the current voting age of 18.
"I think 16 is a reasonable age — that’s the age you can drive at," Tiessen said.
"We’ve got other major challenges ahead of us and I think you guys, a number of you, are wise enough and engaged enough that you can make some decisions and help make some decisions in terms of what is your future."
Maguire recalled when he was involved in student politics in high school and encouraged students to join a party, which can be done starting at 14. He said it’s the best way to get an understanding of how democracy works and the democratic system.
Lussier also said students should join a party and volunteer. Youth are the future of the country and getting involved early allows students to have a role in determining Canada’s future.
"This is how we shape the country," he said.
Brandon-Souris NDP candidate Ashley Duguay, independent Vanessa Hamilton and independent Rob Eastcott did not attend the debate.
Duguay and Hamilton were invited, and the teacher/organizer behind Tuesday’s forum said they couldn’t find contact information for Eastcott.
After the debate, students in the audience said they felt better informed about who to throw their support behind.
Grade 11 student Ja Ferrer said he was intrigued by the Christian Heritage and People’s parties.
"We didn’t know about Christian Heritage yet but they’re very interesting because they’re a very religious party — but I would like to know about them more," he said.
He said he’s glad all parties are doing something to tackle climate change.
Noah Hardy, a Grade 10 student, said he’s leaning more toward the Green or Liberal party. He sees either a Conservative or a Liberal government in the cards on Oct. 21.
Brenna Sawchuk, a Grade 10 student, said Tuesday’s forum was a good chance to see the candidates in action and to bring the information home to her family.
"I didn’t really know much about the newer parties, but when they talked more about it I learned a lot more, which is really good and I thought they were all really professional. Every one of (the candidates), they had good debates."
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 9, 2019