Grade 10 social studies students at Dover Bay Secondary School watch a Zoom debate Thursday involving the three provincial election candidates from the Nanaimo riding. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Grade 10 social studies students at Dover Bay Secondary School watch a Zoom debate Thursday involving the three provincial election candidates from the Nanaimo riding. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo candidates debate issues ahead of student vote

Candidates from B.C. Liberals, NDP and Green Party participated in Zoom debate Oct. 15

High school students aren’t old enough to vote in this month’s election, but they showed they’re interested in issues facing British Columbians of all ages.

Dover Bay Secondary School hosted a Zoom debate Thursday with the three candidates from the Nanaimo riding: Kathleen Jones of the B.C. Liberals, Sheila Malcolmson of the NDP and Lia Versaevel of the Greens.

The candidates answered questions put forward by Dover Bay students, debating issues such as climate change, police reform and more.

All three women said they and their parties subscribe to the science of human-caused climate change and have ideas about what actions B.C. should take.

Jones said her generation is at fault and said her party wants B.C. to be a global climate leader. She said the B.C. Liberals would promote renewable energy and support investments there, and want to increase electric cars and e-bikes while reducing transport trucks. She said the party has a strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and said changes to building codes can help maximize energy efficiency.

Versaevel said New Democrats have touted themselves as environmentalists while continuing to subsidize the fossil fuel industry and suggested the Green Party would do things differently.

“We hold them accountable and we need more MLAs from the Greens in the legislature in order to hold that responsibility front of mind,” Versaevel said.

Malcolmson rebutted, saying that liquefied natural gas development is factored into emissions reductions that the NDP worked on in co-operation with the Green Party.

“If LNG can’t stay under the ceiling of greenhouse gas emissions, it can’t go ahead,” Malcolmson said. “The Greens did not use their influence to stop LNG. They chose not to in the legislature. So we’re in this together.”

She said as well as reducing emissions, the NDP has committed to “training and re-tooling” workers for a new energy economy. She said the party recognizes the high-tech opportunities ahead, but also the responsibility in a climate crisis.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo candidates contrast priorities at live-streamed debate

READ ALSO: B.C. leaders tested in the only TV election debate of 2020

Asked about calls for police reform, the candidates all mentioned that action is needed. Versaevel, who has experience working in corrections and law enforcement, said she knows about policing and said what’s missing is “trauma-informed practice.” She said police need to be encouraged to take advanced training and must be responsible for their actions and held to high standards.

“We know there is a great deal of power in that role and we need to make sure that it is taken very responsibly,” she said.

Malcolmson noted that the NDP government initiated a review of the 45-year-old Police Act, involving all parties, and promised the Multiculturalism Act would be similarly revisited under an NDP government.

“I’m learning every day from the amazing, activist, articulate young people in particular, with lived experience of systemic racism that are speaking out in such a powerful way and really are changing the continental conversation,” Malcolmson said.

Jones said the B.C. Liberals would have diversity commitments to hiring within the public service, and would favour anti-racism and cultural diversity courses. She promised provincewide standards to eliminate arbitrary, racist police profiling.

“We need to have British Columbia as a place of opportunity and being free from racist policies,” she said.

Some of the other topics debated including homelessness, addiction and mental health response and tax policy.

Dover Bay teacher Alistair King moderated the debate, which Grade 10 social studies students watched live via Zoom. The call was recorded so that all students would be able to watch.

King said students submitted about 50 questions to the candidates.

“The breadth of questions were phenomenal and I think students generally are pretty savvy with what’s going on in their communities…” he said. “Some of the kids that are going to be watching this video are going to be voting at the end of next year. We’d have to believe that their vote is important and educated.”

The school will hold a mock student vote on Thursday, Oct. 22. Dover Bay’s chief electoral officer Gillian Holmes said she thinks student interest in provincial politics has grown as they’ve seen, for example, how government policies have impacted education during the pandemic.

“The decisions the government is making are affecting us more than ever and so it’s really important to take an active role in learning about this and educating ourselves,” the Grade 12 student said. “When opportunities like a student election come up, I think it’s a really good idea for students to take part in that and learn about that and to take their own steps to do their own research so that they can have an idea of what’s going on the world.”

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