Lots of candidates and lots of students made for a good public forum at Alberni District Secondary School on Wednesday.
Organized by the ADSS Civics 11 class, the event saw 21 mayor and council candidates make their pitch for office and answered audience questions at the school’s auditorium.
Candidates were given two minutes to introduce themselves then allowed one minute each to answer audience questions. If they went over the time allotment then a three-piece band started playing and cut them off. The band’s services were needed several times.
Grade 11 student Michaela Campbell directed the morning’s first question to councillors and went for the throat. “Which one of the mayoral candidates do you feel you could work best with?”
Candidates looked taken aback by the question and it took several seconds for anyone to reply.
Incumbent councillors Cindy Solda, Hira Chopra and Jack McLeman all spoke in favour of working with sitting mayor Ken McRae.
“You may not like what he does but he lobbies hard for the community behind the scenes,” Cindy Solda said.
Other candidates spoke neutrally about the issue, saying they’d work with whoever was elected.
“I’ve worked with boards before and it doesn’t matter who’s elected you have to work as a team,” Wes Hewitt said.
Council members don’t decide who they’ll work with, voters decide who represents them and they have to work together, Myron Jespersen said.
Another student asked about what anchor stores council would lobby to bring here.
The city is trying to create an environment that is business friendly. More stores will mean more jobs for youth in town, Chopra said.
Small businesses such as the Canvas Cup coffee shop should be considered anchor tenants and more should be encouraged to open, Jespersen said.
Grade 12 student Quinton Heard asked candidates about their lack of use of social media, where most if not all students congregate and communicate.
Stacey Gaiga replied that she prefers to speak to people in person. Annette Clement, a self-confessed “Facebook junkie”, asked which of the audience was on Facebook using iPhones or iPods at that moment. All the students—even some of the band members—raised their hands.
The question and answer session carried on until the school lunch break.
The students did their part and the meeting went off without a hitch, but it could have been better, teacher Anne Ostwald said.
“The kids did a fabulous job of organizing this and pulling it together,” she said. “I just wish there were more members of the public here.”
Students felt a part of the process. “They understand what’s being said, they get it —they’re engaged.”
Candidates treated students like young adults, Grade 11 student Kate Schievink said.
“They didn’t treat us like we were a bunch of dumb kids who didn’t know anything about politics,” Schievink said.
“I wish I was old enough to vote.”