The following is a shorter version of the original, edited with consent from the authors. For the full commentary, contact FJORD via the form at the end of this article.
Last Wednesday, WCI students of all grades and political stripes gathered in the school’s auditorium to hear federal candidates for the Waterloo riding debate issues relevant to young Canadians. All five candidates attended the debate: Peter Braid of the Conservative Party, Bardish Chagger of the Liberal Party, Diane Freeman of the New Democratic Party, Emma Hawley-Yan of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party, and Richard Walsh of the Green Party. Each candidate began with an opening statement, had the opportunity to address three prepared questions, and then answered questions from the audience.
Below is commentary from two of the FJORD’s reporters, Kate Schneider and Sheffi Ben-David, on the debate.
ECONOMY AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
KS: Most of the candidates’ main points were that they would create a Canada where there are jobs waiting for young people in the fields they wanted to work in. “We’re talking about meaningful employment. We’re talking about jobs that make you want to work,” stated Chagger, while Freeman summed it up as, “You deserve the right to know there are jobs waiting for you.”
The one candidate who seemed to have a specific plan was Walsh. The other candidates were pretty vague although that might have been on purpose since the economy is a topic very few young people fully understand. Walsh and Hawley-Yan seemed to mostly agree on this topic. They both talked about fully-funded post-secondary education, and how you can’t have a strong economy with a limited supply of resources coming from our environment. I personally found their arguments, especially Walsh’s, very well laid-out and specific, compelling and knowledgeable, albeit a bit ambitious and idealistic in the short term.
SBD: There were a couple disagreements on this topic. Braid, after the question was asked, stated he disagreed with the premise of the question as he is “actually very hopeful and optimistic about the future for our community and country.” Chagger also laughed when Braid said “government doesn’t create jobs, government creates conditions [for job creation].” It seemed like she was disagreeing but later, she clarified Braid had “stolen” her line. Chagger later listed off a statistic about job creation for youth and said that the Liberals were doing twice as much as the NDP. Freeman asked for a rebuttal but her request was denied.
FOREIGN POLICY (REFUGEE CRISIS/PEACEKEEPING)
KS: This was clearly the most important and controversial issue of the debate. By this point, Chagger had warmed up and was speaking very passionately and eloquently. It seemed the more she got away from her script, the better she spoke. Walsh seemed to also be going off script a little and started to appear more and more dramatic ,saying things such as, “[Bill C-51], it’s hideously undemocratic, off with its head!”
SBD: I think it was also the effect of this particular topic: Chagger is quite involved with refugee aid, and showed that she knew many refugees who were here at the school or that had been. She was passionate about this subject because of that background, and it most definitely showed. It was a nice contrast to her introductory speech.
KS: I personally thought Braid avoided the topic altogether. He talked a lot about how the Conservative government has already contributed “significant humanitarian aid” (at which point Chagger made a face) towards refugees attempting to enter Canada. Students could take this information to either be excessive bragging or actually useful and proof that Braid did have context in this issue.
SBD: He was also later asked a crowd question from an Iraqi refugee, who commented on her own experience with Canada’s refugee policy and on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) in her experience of bombing terrorist organizations. She talked about her sister, who is still in Iraq, and how this reflects on the policy that Canada currently has. Braid deflected the rather emotional question quite effectively, but Chagger managed to capitalize on the emotion by addressing the woman, who she knew personally from the multicultural center. It was a good opportunity for Chagger to prove her claimed commitment to immigration policies without it coming off as bragging.
KS: As the person who asked Braid this question, I was a little disappointed that he never really answered my question about how the Conservative Party will protect the rights of transgender individuals, instead saying that he voted against bill C-279, a bill attempting to add “‘gender identity’ as a ‘prohibited ground of discrimination’ in the Canadian Human Rights Act,” because “the protection already exists [for trans people].” I was more impressed by Freeman’s assertion that we should “love each other for who we are, not who someone wants us to be.” However, while Freeman made a statement that I personally agreed with more, Braid did honestly approach the issue by describing his stance on it while the NDP didn’t seem to have a concrete plan on this topic.
SBD: Transgender rights is a delicate topic altogether. There seems to still be people in office who are not entirely convinced that transgendered people even exist, which certainly makes the likelihood of them passing a law about it significantly lower. A lot of the other candidates seemed to simply pat themselves on the back, saying “of course, you’re important,” and not actually contributing any solid information on what they would do about this issue moving forward.
LOW YOUTH TURNOUT IN ELECTIONS
KS: Here, Walsh seemed to add in humour to his answer by using climate change as an example of an issue young people care about but one that doesn’t encourage them to vote and participate in politics: “Even the Pope gets it! … but the old parties don’t get it.” He also stated that political parties should face the realities of the 21st century and that young people would then feel more motivated to get involved.
SBD: This might have been the most awkward part of the entire debate, and there were certainly some awkward parts. Walsh, to me, felt completely out of it; maybe it was supposed to be an example of a larger set of issues, but it came off as if he was talking about climate change as this ridiculously huge issue. At one point during this speech, I looked over and saw Hawley-Yan seemingly trying to contain laughter—and she’s for the environment!
KS: The candidates also seemed to take this opportunity to attack Braid and his party. Chagger took the first swipe at the Conservatives by saying “Peter Braid may feel that way [wanting people to get involved], but his leader certainly doesn’t,” while Freeman criticized the party for not being democratic and encouraged young people to just get involved in order to get rid of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
SBD: It certainly seemed like Braid had a lot of more progressive opinions not shared with him by his party leader. A lot of the core voters are people who would naturally vote for more right-wing parties; immigrants and younger people, for instance, are both more likely to vote left. I’m part of both of the aforementioned groups, so it’s natural that I lean away from the Conservatives, but Braid did impress.
OUR FINAL OPINIONS
KS: I thought Chagger was the winner of this debate as she won over many students in the audience. As a person who finds the New Democratic Party and Green Party’s views align more with my personal values, I was very impressed by her. While she seemed to be a weak speaker at the start, by the end of the debate she proved to be a charismatic and convincing debater. Students also seemed to be very taken by Walsh and his platform. As for the least liked candidate among the students, I would guess it to be Braid as his party’s platform seems to appeal more to older citizens for its emphasis on the economy.
SBD: I asked three of the candidates (whoever I was able to approach as Braid left early and I could not find Hawley-Yan) whether they would have anything to add to an article about the debate, and the responses were interesting. Walsh wanted me to say that he is an award winning psychology professor with a published book, Freeman wanted me to say that her background in engineering gave her a unique viewpoint on issues and a useful understanding of statistics and logic, and Chagger wanted me to talk about immigration issues and about civic engagement. Chagger was, therefore, the only one I asked who answered not about herself, but about issues that were important to her.