Local youth leaders grill Kootenay–Columbia candidates in online forum

On Sept. 8, federal candidates from the Kootenay—Columbia riding logged onto Zoom for a climate-focused, youth-led public forum.

Kootenay—Columbia candidates from left to right: Robin Goldsbury, Wayne Stetski, Rana Nelson, and Rob Morrison. Photo illustration by Bailey Gingras-Hamilton

As the federal election rapidly approaches, youth leaders and environmental activists are pressing potential candidates on their commitments to climate change, affordable housing, and more.

Friday’s For Future West Kootenay (FFFWK) and Citizens’ Climate Lobby: Nelson-West Kootenay hosted a climate-focused, youth-led virtual election forum on Sept. 8. Four candidates from the Kootenay—Columbia riding joined the discussion, representing the leading federal parties. Questions came from local activist groups, with eight organizations posing one question each over the two-hour event.

The following candidates represented their respective parties at the forum: Robin Goldsbury of the Liberal Party, Rob Morrison of the Conservative Party, Wayne Stetski of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Rana Nelson of the Green Party.

Guided by youth leaders and activists, forum topics reflect trending issues among young voters. Affordable housing, climate change, and mental health are among highlighted issues. Linn Murray, a 21-year-old Youth Organizer at FFFWK co-moderated the forum alongside 18-year-old Thea De Paoli.

Differing from leaders’ debates, organizers prioritized respectful discussion with a solution-focused approach.

“We don’t want to hear what candidates have done wrong. We want to hear your opinions on solutions,” De Paoli reminded candidates shortly before beginning the question period. Despite these warnings, candidates still managed to sneak in a few jabs at other parties.

Although an official candidate in the riding, Sarah Bennett from the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) was not invited to the discussion.  FFFWK says they “followed the national debate guidelines on polling levels when we determined which parties to include.” Those guidelines are outlined in the Leaders’ Debates Commission’s participation criteria.

Youth leaders and activists share emotional fears for the future

Understandably, the young activists and environmentalists organizing this discussion did not hold back when expressing their fears for the future. At one point, the event saw 160 attendees.

Increased civic engagement among younger demographics is a welcomed change from previous elections. According to Elections Canada data, only 53.9 per cent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 participated in the 2019 election. This was the lowest turnout of all age demographics that year.

However, in a tight election, voter turnout matters. According to vote projections from 338canada.com, the race in British Columbia is narrowing between the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP. Projections indicate that Conservatives are leading in the province at 31 per cent of votes, followed by the NDP at 30 per cent, and finally the Liberals in third at 28 per cent.

There are unique, emotional challenges that rural constituents face. As explained by two participants from Wildsight’s Climate Youth Corps, youth in rural B.C. face additional barriers to transportation, housing, education, and employment.

“We want to stay here and lead efforts to address climate change for the sake of our region and the world, but for reasons we’ve outlined, we may not be able to do so,” elaborates Noah Ko, who then asked candidates for solutions.

Although each candidate promised to invest money into affordable housing, their specific promises remain vague. While Morrison stated that “we need to actually do something solid, which means action, not talking about it,” the Conservative candidate and current Kootenay—Columbia MP did not propose any actions. The NDP has a plan to build over 500,000 affordable houses in the next 10 years, but Stetski admitted the project still requires more funding and planning. Rana Nelson used this question as an opportunity to promote the Green Party’s guaranteed living income; which is unique to their platform.

Candidates straddle provincial-federal jurisdictions to address forestry management

Despite falling under provincial jurisdiction, activists raised concerns around forestry management and wildfire mitigation to candidates.

“As physicians in the Kootenays, we’ve seen the effects directly on our patients. Working in the emergency department I’ve treated patients with respiratory-related illness and mental health conditions as a result of the climate crisis,” stated Dr. Kyle Merritt on behalf of a new organization, Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health. Following his statement, Merrit questioned candidates’ urgency on climate action.

NDP candidate Wayne Stetski responded with financial support, proposing to cut oil and gas subsidies, and reinvesting those funds into renewable energy research. In contrast, Morrison proposed working alongside provincial authorities before dedicating funding. However, Morrison did not mention any specific investments or incentives backed by Conservatives that address the federal government’s role in mitigating fire risk.

Tensions rose when forum moderators directed the conversation towards old-growth logging. Although Morrison is open to re-evaluating “what percent and why are they cutting it [old-growth] down”, he emphasized that logging licensing remains a provincial jurisdiction. Stetski, however, argued for more federal involvement in forestry policy, citing pre-existing laws that protect wildlife species and biological diversity.

“A species becomes a federal concern when it that makes the rare and endangered species list, because that is federal legislation,” Stetski stated, referring to the Species at Risk Act. “At what point might these rare and endangered old-growth forests fall under federal jurisdiction?”

Election 2021: Voting information

The 2021 Federal Election is on Monday, Sept. 20. Advanced voting opens tomorrow, Sept. 10, and will run until Sept. 13. The deadline to vote by mail is also approaching; voters must apply for an absentee ballot by Sept. 14. However, if you apply to vote by mail, you do not qualify for in-person voting.

To find your polling station, check your voter information card, or read more about your voting options, visit elections.ca.