Bill Sarai and Ken Christian would have picked up votes on Wednesday if some South Kamloops secondary students just shy of the voting threshold could cast ballots on Oct. 20.
About 120 high school students from grades 8 to 12 filled the library during B block for a chance to hear from candidates running in the upcoming civic election.
“I think it was awesome,” Grade 12 student Kaden Dempsey said, noting he is months away from cresting the 18-year-old voting age.
Mayoral candidates Christian and William Turnbull were joined by a dozen others vying for one of eight council seat: Jennifer Adams, Nicholas Adams, Dale Bass, Chris Bose, Corally Delwo, Dennis Giesbrecht, Jimmy Johal, Stephen Karpuk, Caroline King, Alison Klie, Sarai and Arjun Singh.
Absent were Donovan Cavers (he made a brief and late cameo), Ray Dhaliwal, Dieter Dudy, Shawn Harnett, Sadie Hunter, Mike O’Reilly, Kathy Sinclair, Denis Walsh and Gerald Watson.
During brief introductions, candidates stressed to youngsters the importance of voting in four years’ time, but also encouraged them to go home and tell their parents to vote and ask to be taken with them to the polls.
“It’s really time for you guys to get involved,” King said.
Students also asked questions. One-by-one they stood, raising queries about everything from homelessness to community safety to taxes.
Two topics that hit close to home were the impacts of cannabis legalization and congestion at local schools, which has been an issue — especially at Valleyview secondary — as the city grows.
Arjun Singh said the latter falls under the jurisdiction of the Kamloops-Thompson school district, but noted the city plays a supportive role lobbying the provincial government for funding.
Grade 8 student Elliot Baskin asked two questions, first directing to mayoral candidates possible changes they’d like to see, assuming full support from council. Christian cited the performing-arts centre, a proposal defeated by voters in a 2015 referendum. Asked by Baskin what industry could dominate the city in the future, council candidate Giesbrecht said the River City is primed for well-paying jobs combining technology and trades. Speaking after the forum to KTW, Baskin said he was pleased with answers from candidates, noting they were not required to appease students who cannot yet vote. The 13-year-old was not shy facing a panel of the city’s current and future politicians.
“I’ve always had a love for politics because it shows us the freedom of our country and how we have a voice,” Baskin said.
This is the second year the school has held an all-candidates forum (it held one during last year’s byelection) and South Kamloops secondary teacher and event organizer John Annicchiarico touted candidates for engaging with the next generation. More candidates showed up than expected and he said it is important students have a “conscience contact with democracy.”
It appears to have worked. Grade 12 student Lennard Wiederkehr said while he doesn’t remember much from a unit on politics during socials class, the forum was an opportunity to learn and become better informed.
“I always thought it [civic politics] would be super confusing and stuff,” he said. “But for the most part, it’s just day-to-day stuff.”
Moving from South Korea to Canada, Grade 11 student Tae Hwan Kim said he has never participated in anything like the forum.
“It was refreshing to see candidates taking the time,” he said. “Their [candidates] time is valuable because it’s so close to the election — taking time out of their lives to talk to teenagers, most of them can’t even vote yet.”
So, for whom exactly would they vote?
While most students said all candidates impressed, Wiederkehr appreciated Sarai’s direct approach, excitement and solutions to problems. Kim, meanwhile, noted Christian’s confidence and said he “knows what he’s talking about.”