As one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history reaches the home stretch, you can bet federal candidates for the Courtenay-Alberni riding have answered the same questions more than a few times.
But Tuesday afternoon they were thrown a curve ball by Kwalikum Secondary School’s (KSS) student body.
At the Qualicum Beach high school’s standing-room-only election forum, moderated by drama teacher Dan Osleeb and organized by teacher Kati Worthen, one student poignantly asked: Who would you vote for in this election if you couldn’t vote for yourself?
“Locally, I’d vote for the guy I like the best and that’s Glenn Sollitt (Green),” Conservative candidate John Duncan answered modestly.
Liberal candidate Carrie Powell-Davidson agreed, saying the Green Party’s environmental ideals aligned closest with the Liberals so she would also vote for Sollitt.
However, Sollitt said he wouldn’t vote for any of his fellow candidates.
“I wouldn’t vote,” he said to jeers from the audience of more than 400 students.
“In the last provincial election, I’m being really honest here — what I usually do is research the leader, the party and the local candidate and try to find a combination I like … I couldn’t find that so I didn’t vote.”
Sollitt said while it’s important to vote, you should vote for someone and/or a party you believe in — noting one of the reasons he decided to run in this federal election was because he didn’t see a candidate he would support.
Sollitt confirmed he would not cast a ballot in the upcoming election if he couldn’t vote for the Green Party.
NDP candidate Gord Johns said he would do his research and “vote for the best candidate to defeat the Conservatives,” however, he didn’t name a specific candidate or party.
After the forum, Johns called Sollitt’s answer “pathetic. You’re telling all these students to get out and vote and then you say you wouldn’t even vote if you couldn’t vote for yourself?” said Johns. “That’s just pathetic.”
Asked about their stance on a woman’s right to wear a niqab, or veil, that partially covers their face, Powell-Davidson said: “Every woman in Canada has the right to dress however they want to” drawing the biggest applause of the afternoon.
Both Sollitt and Johns agreed, saying they support respect and diversity.
Duncan agreed with the other candidates, but said the only exception is that no one should be wearing a head covering when entering the Canadian family.
While the majority of KSS students in the audience are not yet of voting age, the candidates still campaigned as hard as ever given the looming election.
Powell-Davidson said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau “gets young people are not our future, they are our present,” totting the party’s plan to legalize marijuana.
Sollitt committed to establishing a five-year program for funding post-secondary education, including eliminating the interest rate on existing student loans and reducing loans down to a maximum of $10,000 regardless of their initial size.
“By 2020 we will have free post secondary education,” he promised the student body to loud applause. “Although the Green Party is the smallest party we have the biggest ideas.”
Johns advocated for a different approach to politics.
“I bring a lot of energy,” he said enthusiastically.
He told the students about his history as a former Tofino councillor and Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce executive director, where he “doubled the membership and the budget … We did that by doing things differently.”
Johns said he’s innovative, thinks outside the box, has vision and energy.
“I look forward to the day you can vote,” he told the students.
“I’m part of the Conservative caucus and we’ve been in government for almost 10 years therefore I’m the target,” Duncan, the Conservative government whip and incumbent Vancouver Island North MP told the students. “However, Canada is a very enviable country in the world.”
Duncan said Canada tops many international lists rating countries based on their economy, the best place to do business and even personal happiness.
“Canada is recognized because we punch above our weight everywhere,” he said. “We have a reputation that’s unbelievable and the government I’m part of is responsible for that change.”
KSS was scheduled to have a student vote on Friday. The 42nd federal election is Monday.