Sisler students 'happy' with scripted responses from candidates in Winnipeg North

A political student group at Sisler High School sent questions ahead of a Winnipeg North federal election forum Thursday, to ensure all the candidates, but particularly the Conservatives, would come.

Winnipeg North candidates received questions in advance so invited candidates would show up

Students at Sisler High School listen to Winnipeg North candidates at a forum held Thursday. (CBC)

A political student group at Sisler High School sent questions ahead of a Winnipeg North federal election forum Thursday, to ensure all the candidates, but particularly the Conservatives, would come. 

"We felt that if we gave the questions out beforehand all the candidates would feel more comfortable and be able to come," said Philip Kawalec, who leads Sisler's Political Youth, the group that organized the forum. 

The students said they decided to send the questions ahead of time after seeing media coverage of conservative candidates skipping forums, debates and media interviews. 

This week alone, Elmwood-Transcona Conservative Lawrence Toet did not attend a forum held by the Public Service Alliance of Canada Tuesday evening; Francois Catellier, the Tory running in St. Boniface-St. Vital, backed out of a CBC radio interview Wednesday morning; and on Thursday, the University of Manitoba Students' Union said Winnipeg South Tory candidate Gordon Giesbrecht has declined an invite to a debate "at any time."

Most news organizations, including the CBC, do not give politicians questions prior to interviews or debates as a matter of policy, but Kawalec said the students were "happy" with the candidates' "scripted responses."

"We want each candidate to think their answers through and to go with what their party lines are, because that's why we're here. We want the students to see what each party believes in," he said.

The group said its main goal was to engage students in the election. Traditionally, young people are the least likely to vote. For example, overall voter turnout for the 2011 election was 61.1 per cent, but of voters aged 18 to 24, only 38.8 per cent cast a ballot. 

The four candidates invited all came: Kevin Lamoureux (Liberal), Harpreet Turka (Conservative), Levy Abad (NDP) and John Redekopp (Green). The Communist Party of Canada's Frank Komarniski was not invited.

Turka was unaware he was part of the reason the students sent out the questions ahead of time, but he said he wouldn't have missed the event. 

"I was never told that, but I had a great time and I think the kids were all engaged," Turka said after the forum. 

Turka read answers to three of the five questions, and part of a fourth. Only his answer to youth voter engagement came entirely off the cuff.

NDP candidate Levy Abad also read the majority of his prepared responses. Neither, the Green's John Redekopp nor the incumbent Liberal, Kevin Lamoureux, read from any notes during the event.

"There were some key points I didn't want to forget, but a lot of the answers I answered right off the top of my head," Turka said in defence of his performance. 

Grade 12 Sisler student Tyson Borys, 17, said Turka did a good job, but he felt a disconnect. 

"It does kind of degrade the thinking process of it and, kind of, how you relate to the candidates, but I think reading off the paper is OK, because you do have to prepare for any question." 

Borys said it was difficult to pick a winner from the forum. 

A number of students said the winner was "voter turn-out" because the event increased the likelihood more young people would be engaged in Canadian politics down the road. 

The five questions Sisler's Political Youth gave to candidates were:

1. Post-secondary education

In Canada today, post-secondary education is instrumental to a successful life for young adults. However, the high cost often denies young people the opportunity, even though they are academically capable. What is your party's plan to make Post-Secondary Education more accessible and fairly distributed?

2. Unemployment 

Statistics Canada has reported in recent years that youth unemployment has risen to 13 per cent. Moreover, many young adults are relegated to unfair and unpaid internships. What is your party's plan to assist youth attempting to enter the workforce?

3. Voting 

In the 41st general election that took place in 2011, the youth voter turnout was approximately 39 per cent from the registered population while the voter turnout in the senior category approximated 75 per cent. Thus, one may conclude that there is some deterrent or lack of incentive preventing youth from voting. What is your party intending to do to engage the youth of this country and reinvigorate their participation in the political process?

4. Environment 

Sisler, like many high schools, runs its own Environmental Club and has many students who are concerned about the state of the world's environment.  What does your party plan to do to keep Canada's ecosystems clean and healthy? What kind of world will you leave behind for us?

5. Health 

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, only one in five children who require mental health services receive them. According to Statistics Canada, at least 200 teenagers commit suicide every year, and this number is growing, especially among aboriginal youth. What does your party intend to do to address the mental health crisis in Canadian youth?


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