Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh took the stage at Alberni Valley District Secondary School Tuesday morning for his first talk in front of students since his election.
The school was his only stop in Port Alberni on Tuesday, Mar. 6 during his tour of Vancouver Island. He had been invited by the school’s Model UN Club, and was accompanied by Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns.
In front of the full auditorium, he spoke about the impact that youth can have on their communities and their country.
“Young people have the best B.S. metre out there,” he said frankly. “If someone’s not real, you can call it out. It’s that ability to be real and authentic that connects with people.”
Model UN students moderated the event, delivering questions to Singh that spanned from tuition costs to environmental concerns to electoral reform.
He expressed his opposition to the Kinder Morgan project, which drew a round of applause from the crowd.
“If our goal is to protect the environment, and to reduce the emissions we put out into the air, the land, the water, then we need to make sure that our energy projects match up with our goals,” he said.
He added that new projects also need to create local opportunities, drawing a comparison to raw log exports.
“If we cut down trees, and then just ship them without actually creating value, it doesn’t create jobs for local people,” he said.
The project, said Singh, also needs more environmental risk assessment, as well as consultation with Indigenous populations.
“We can’t move forward in our country if we don’t respect the rights of the First People of this land,” he said.
Singh also expressed his commitment to proportional representation.
“If you get 40 percent of the vote, that means you get four out of the ten votes and you get all the power,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense. I think people want to see their voice reflected in Ottawa, and whatever percentage you get is the amount of power you get. I think it’s about giving power to the people.
Singh met with the Model UN students to personally hear their concerns before taking the stage at the ADSS theatre. He took selfies with students and doled out high fives before and after his talk.
The students were “star struck,” in the words of student Reghan Geddes.
“He’s such a big inspiration to a lot of us,” she said.
“He’s able to connect with us really easily,” added student Saraf Nawar. “It’s like we’re friends with him, instead of strangers.”
They appreciated the message Singh delivered, as well as the way he took the time to answer each of their questions.
“I feel like he didn’t beat around the bush,” said Geddes. “His message is something a lot of students could respond to.”
Singh was equally impressed by the students.
“They talked about caring about the environment and Indigenous issues,” he said. “And the reasons why were so heartwarming. We have a responsibility to take care of [the planet] because we’re not alone here. That’s a beautiful sentiment.”
He added, “I have so much hope for the brighter future that we can build. The questions were all questions that talked on issues of justice and building a better Canada. I’m overwhelmed with positive, hopeful feelings about the future, given how these students think and the questions they asked.”