Local politicians bring the issues home in Markham.
By Amanda Taccone
Student Vote 2004 Youthbeat
June 10, 2004
Candidates in the Ontario riding of Markham-Unionville
took time from their busy campaign schedules on Thursday to talk to an
audience who, for the most part, will not be voting in the upcoming election.
As part of the Student Vote 2004 program, Conservative candidate Joe
Li, NDP candidate Janice Hagan and Liberal incumbent John McCallum each
had the opportunity to answer a series of questions posed by a panel of
high school students who joined them onstage at the Middlefield Collegiate
Institute in Markham.
The audience in the cafeteria/auditorium cheered, booed, and otherwise
made their feelings known as the politicians delivered their messages
on issues ranging from abortion and same-sex marriage to the war in Iraq,
the privatization of health care, the treatment of young offenders, gun
control and immigration.
But the strongest negative reaction from students was
a response to attitude more than ideas, as McCallum repeatedly attacked
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and the party's platform.
|John McCallum, Liberal candidate
After repeatedly referring to Li as the Alliance candidate, McCallum
added, "On the subject of labels, I would like to remind Joe Li that the
Progressive Conservative party no longer exists. They took away the word
"progressive" and that was no accident. What it is is a takeover of the
Canadian Alliance and is now a party that favours the war in Iraq, that
says that Asian-Canadians live in ghettos, that favours industry over
health care, that wants to trample on women's rights, that would have
an unholy alliance with the Bloc [Qu�b�cois], and that doesn't believe
in the use of the Charter to protect minority rights...so I have absolutely
no hesitation in calling them the Alliance Conservative party."
Taina Wong, 17, was one of the students asking questions
onstage. "Before the debate I was leaning more towards the Liberals, now
I'm leaning more towards Janice Hagan and the NDP. She was the only one
who seemed interested in the issues, whereas McCallum was always talking
negatively about the other [candidates]. Hagan talked about human rights
and bringing down the voting age, and now that I've heard all of this
I really want to vote."
|Janice Hagan, NDP candidate
Hagan's emphasis on human rights and social issues was
evident as she discussed dealing with young offenders. "The way to deal
with youth crime is to create a society where everybody feels included,
it's easy to disrespect people, to steal their stuff, to break into someone's
car if you have no respect for them at all, if they're nobodies to you...What
we need to do is put more money into recreation, into mulitculturalism
and into building a better life for people at the bottom of our culture,
so they don't feel like they're left out."
Students in the audience had the same reaction to McCallum's approach
as Wong did onstage. Michael Loo, Miral Kalyani and Camille Hadaway, all
16, weren't impressed by McCallum's attacks. Although their priorities
varied, they were all much more interested in each candidate's position
on the issues.
For Loo, opinions on the war in Iraq took precedence, and the NDP's opposition
to sending soldiers got him interested, but he worried that, especially
with Li, the opinions he was giving were his personal opinions, not that
of the party.
|Joe Li, CPC candidate
Responding to a question on same-sex marriages, Li said, "I'm a happily
married person with three children. I support the traditional definition
of marriage. I am not against the way of life other people adopted, I
respect the way of life of gays and lesbians, I think that's a private
issue, and I will not have anything, whatever to do with that issue."
For Hadaway, although each party's opinion on abortion rights was most
important, she was also impressed with the NDP's approach to gun control,
and Hagan's very current reference to comedian Chris Rock.
"It's a good point, we don't need a lot of gun laws, just high prices
on bullets so they won't use them as much," she said. "The law right now
is too loose on gun violence, the people [using guns illegally] are in
jail one day and back on the streets the next day."
Kalyani added that what makes it hard to choose a party
is that students might agree with one candidate on one issue, and with
another candidate when it comes to something else, but that at least with
this debate, "you got to know the person [in the party] who is connected
to you, the person closest to you, so you know what they stand for."
She added that having debates in school is a good way to find out what's
going on, because students are often too busy when they go home to turn
on the news and find out what's happening.
Getting more familiar with each party's platform and its local representative
was most important to many of the students in attendance.
"You can't relate to a sign," says Rahul Soni, 16, who
was on stage with the candidates. "When you see their faces, you can relate
to what they have to say more when it's in person. And it sparks conversation,
makes you think about what they're saying. Some people agree, some disagree
and you can talk about it, but having it in school makes it socially acceptable
if you want to vote; as a group you feel empowered."
Vikas Gautam, 18, agrees that it's good to bring the debates into the
schools. "Overall it's a good experience, because a lot of people don't
understand what's going on," he says. "Young people don't vote because
they don't think it makes a difference, but it does make a difference.
Young people need to be encouraged as future leaders, and today's leaders
need to understand the current issues...especially since our town is so
diverse, and we feel we're not represented [by current leaders]."