Politics 101:

Leadership class brings forum to Duchess Park

Damien Turner asks a question at Thursday's All-Candidates Forum after being handed the microphone by Owen MacDonald.

Most of them will be too young to vote in the Oct. 21 federal election. But, students at Duchess Park Secondary School still got involved in the political process.

The vast majority of the Duchess Park student population – about 900 people in total – attended an All-Candidates Forum on Thursday in the school gymnasium. The students packed into the bleachers to hear from candidates representing the Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green and PPC parties. Each candidate was given seven minutes at the microphone and that was followed by a question-and-answer session.

Duchess Park Leadership, a group of about 50 students from Grades 9 to 12, started organizing the forum in September. Grade 12s Kiersten Mikkelsen and Emily Mann spearheaded the project.

“This happened when we were in Grade 8 – somebody organized it so we kind of had the background,” Mikkelsen said afterward. “This year is an election so we wanted to get people involved and engaged. A teacher that we’re pretty close with (Patrice LaPointe), he is organizing a mock election next week so he brought it up about doing something like this again.”

Thanks to all the planning and the day-of execution, Thursday’s forum ran smoothly. It concluded with a handful of students posing direct questions to candidates. One student asked all candidates their position on Quebec’s Bill 21, which would ban public employees – including teachers, judges and police officers – from wearing symbols of faith.

“I thought they were really good,” Mann said of the questions that were asked. “You always hope, when you have a question-and-answer period, that people actually ask valid questions so I thought it was good.”

Mikkelsen said she was hoping to hear more information about the official platforms of the candidates. Several went light on party policies and heavier on personal and political backgrounds.

“There was some (platform information) but not a whole lot,” she said. “Especially for the Grade 12 students, we could use more of that information. Grade 8s, I do get it because they’re a little bit younger so what (the candidates) said today I thought probably would have connected more with the younger students.”

Nicola Marais, a Grade 11 student, did an excellent job of introducing the candidates and keeping the forum moving along. Mikkelsen and Mann asked Marais if she would fill that role and she happily accepted.

“I was very excited because I think it’s very good for us to know about politics and what’s going on,” Marais said. “We have to learn and it’s good to start being educated now.

“I think the students enjoyed it and we got knowledge out of it,” she added. “And Kiersten and Emily did so much planning so we’re very fortunate to have them.”

Legal voting age in Canada is 18. Mikkelsen (two more months) and Mann (eight more months) are getting close to being eligible but Marais – who recently moved to Prince George from South Africa – needs an important document before she can even consider stepping into a voting booth.

“I still have to get my Canadian citizenship so I still have a long time to go,” she said with a grin. “I think in four years I will be able to.”

The mock election at Duchess Park is Oct. 15.

Kiersten Mikkelsen, left, and Emily Mann were the primary organizers of the forum.

Duchess Park student Nicola Marais introduces a candidate.

Carson Cote asks a question of the candidates.