While they aren’t yet old enough to vote, Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School students participated in an important tenet of democracy Thursday as they heard from the six candidates hoping to represent Simcoe North in Canada's next Parliament.
“It’s important for everyone to know that all-candidates meetings are essential to the democratic process,” Grade 11 student and meeting moderator Alex Rodger said at the outset of the 90-minute discussion in the school’s gymnasium.
Liberal hopeful Gerry Hawes, Conservative incumbent Bruce Stanton and NDP candidate Angelique Belcourt took the stage alongside Green Party candidate Valerie Powell, Chris Brown (Christian Heritage Party) and Stephen Makk (People’s Party of Canada).
Candidates listed the reasons they felt ready to lead while answering a few questions posed by students on topics ranging from high cellphone rates and climate change to opioid dangers and taxation.
Powell started things off by taking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to task for failing to commit to proportional representation over the current first-past-the-post electoral system that tends to hurt smaller parties by not equally dividing the overall vote total.
“We need more Greens in Ottawa because we’re not just in a political crisis, but also a climate catastrophe,” she said. “A party with a weak climate plan or no climate plan should not control your future.”
Hawes, meanwhile, cautioned against voting Conservative.
“The last thing we need is an Andrew Scheer/Doug Ford tag-team,” he said, referring to the Conservative leader and Ontario Premier, respectively.
Hawes said the governing Liberals were the first to create a national housing strategy while also working to lift Canadians out of poverty and addressing climate change with concrete actions.
“This government did more on climate change than any government in history,” he said. “Going forward, we will implement five-year, legally binding milestones.
“These milestones force the governments to feel the fire to do it now. I’m a Liberal, but I’m also a green candidate.”
As the youngest candidate at 23 years old, Belcourt reminded students that they are the future and that their voices matter.
“It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just stay informed, be involved because you deserve a government that’s going to be accountable.”
Makk said his party would ensure Canadians are responsible for their own futures.
“Our governments have been steadily growing and having an increased influence on our lives to use the government to solve our problems,” Makk said.
“Canadians want to be self-reliant, not reliant on government. When government gets pushed back, you can move forward. You need to convince your parents to vote for freedom.”
While most candidates supported working towards lowering phone rates, Brown said the bigger issue remains the possible adverse health side-effects caused by prolonged cellphone use, especially given ongoing network advances.
As well, Brown said people need to return to the basic tenets of Christianity for guidance and to ensure a brighter future.
“Only by returning to those foundations will we find hope,” he said. “The major prophesies foreshadowed in the Bible are now being fulfilled."
Brown also noted that systems are already in place to deal with the opioid crisis through safe injection sites.
Added Hawes: “We have to treat this as a health issue. Punitive measures do not work. All of us have to pull together to be part of the solution.”
Stanton agreed that something needs to be done, pointing out up to 11 Canadians die everyday as a result of opioids.
“This requires a comprehensive, across-the-board response,” he said. “It really does take all facets of government, not just the federal, but also the provincial and municipal governments working hand in hand.”
But the event’s best line likely belonged to Powell when she responded to a student who had made light of an incident when the meeting opened and as, so often happens at these kinds of things, the microphone didn’t work.
The student asked: “Why should we take ecology advice from someone who can’t even work a microphone?” to which Powell later replied to loud cheers, “Oh look at that. I can work the microphone.”
Students at many schools across Canada, including Patrick Forgarty, are holding mock elections Friday to determine who students feel should be part of the next federal government.