Local candidates try to woo young voters

On Tuesday morning at Elmira District Secondary School, the four candidates for Kitchener-Conestoga reached out not to the voters of today, but to the voters of tomorrow by participating in a round-table discussion in the school’s library. More than 50 teachers and students sacrificed their lunch pe

Last updated on May 04, 23

Posted on Apr 29, 11

4 min read

On Tuesday morning at Elmira District Secondary School, the four candidates for Kitchener-Conestoga reached out not to the voters of today, but to the voters of tomorrow by participating in a round-table discussion in the school’s library.

STAKING A POSITION Albert Ashley (left), Green party candidate for Kitchener-Conestoga, listens as incumbent Conservative Harold Albrecht outlines his take on rising tuition fees at EDSS Tuesday.

More than 50 teachers and students sacrificed their lunch period to listen to what Harold Albrecht of the Conservatives, Lorne Bruce of the NDP, Bob Rosehart of the Liberals and Albert Ashley for the Green party had to say in one of their final public meetings leading up to the May 2 federal election.

Candidates were granted a three-minute opening statement and were asked for their party’s position on five questions ranging from the environment to the economy and rising tuition costs, which they had two minutes to respond to.

The meeting was billed not as a debate, but a roundtable discussion between the candidates and the students. It was a laid-back affair, with only one of the candidates – incumbent Harold Albrecht – electing to wear a tie.

For the majority of the talk the candidates stuck to their scripted answers for the five questions asked by student moderators Jacob Nederend and Graham Colby, organizers of the Student Vote campaign at EDSS. Student Vote is a national program aimed at getting students more involved in the election process and to become more aware of the issues that affect them and their communities.

In the room full of students – many of them in their senior year – the first question asked of the candidates was perhaps the most pressing on their minds: how does your party plan to assist youth looking to go on to secondary education?

“I think if you look at a government and its responsibility and its role, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for young folks to get an education and to graduate from that and get a good job to participate in the economy,” said Bruce, while outlining the NDP platform to direct $800 million to combat skyrocketing tuition costs, and raise the education tax credit from $4,800 to $5,760 per year.

The other three candidates also promised to increase funding for post-secondary education as well as tax benefits for families. Albrecht highlighted the Conservatives plan to make all scholarships and bursaries for students tax-free; Rosehart said the Liberals would give all students an outright grant ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 per year for school; and Ashley emphasized the importance of students exploring their post-secondary options and outlined how the Green party would increase the number of spaces available at educational institutions, while also supporting integrated co-op program placements.

“Having five children that have gone on to post-secondary education, it’s very necessary for you to go on and it’s a great opportunity for you,” Ashley told the crowd.

Another question of particular interest to the students was each of the candidate’s position on restoring Canada’s reputation as an environmental leader around the world.

Bruce and Rosehart each expressed dismay and frustration over how Canada’s environmental record had taken a beating on the international stage under Stephen Harper, with the NDP candidate highlighting Canada winning the ‘Fossil of the Year’ award in Copenhagen last winter.

“I think we should be leading the way, and under the current government and the one before it we aren’t leading the way. We’re becoming a stumbling block to achieve what we need to achieve,” said Bruce.

Albrecht, meanwhile, defended his party’s environmental record over the past five years.

“I’m more concerned about the quality of air that my grandchildren will breath and the quality of water that they’ll drink than whether or not we get some fictitious ‘fossil’ award,” he responded, highlighting the fact that the Conservative government had made inroads in ensuring the major carbon emitters were on-board to reduce their green-house gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol – Canada in particular by 20 per cent in 2020, and by 60 to 70 per cent in 2050 – as well as taking steps to protect the nation’s water supply.

While the candidates could not come to a consensus on most of the subjects discussed on the day, all four did agree that engaging the youth vote in Canada was critical for the long-term health of democracy in the nation.

“I have always referred to Elmira District Secondary School as a model for how we can increase voter turnout once the graduate from high school,” said Albrecht in an interview afterwards. “I believe that if we get them turned on to the idea of voting while they’re a student, then in most cases, that will translate into them continuing to vote down the road.”

Rosehart, meanwhile, expressed fear for the future of democracy in Canada if candidates fail to engage youth before they are old enough to cast their first ballot.

“It’s never too early [to get young voters interested],” he said following the discussion. “Stephen Harper has basically said ‘this election is over and we’re going back to work on Tuesday,’ and with this ultimate arrogance, someone should remind him that voting day is Monday. I think that’s really what it is all about.”

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