"IF YOU'RE A STUDENT, YOU'RE NOT GETTING IN!" All Candidates Meeting an exercise in exclusion?

Friday, September 19, 2003

  • Watching from the kids' table (photo: Jen Lyon)

    Watching from the kids' table (photo: Jen Lyon)

Written by Laura Shaw

Thursday night at 7:00 outside the River Run Centre in downtown Guelph, a mass was obviously forming. Signs on the doors of the building stated in bold letters, “NO BACKPACKS NO PLACARDS”, police littered the entrance, and men in suits with stern faces set the tone immediately- this was no typical debate. One young man shouted, “if you’re a student you’re not getting in!” and many others voiced like concerns. Apparently, the hall was filled and there was no room for the rest of us - all students.

Many students felt betrayed and frustrated by condescending employees and policemen who refused to answer questions or explain the situation with any clarity. One young woman dressed smartly in a pinstripe suit was visibly upset that the list of questions she had spent hours developing would go unanswered by the current municipal MP, Brenda Elliott.

We were herded into a room with a video screen and speakers - left to watch but not allowed to participate. After the opening speeches, a group of students clustered, huddling together. Police became interested very quickly, and their presence was felt throughout the rest of the debate. From my seat, I could see at least two policemen at all times, the number grew to three, and by the end, four. One question that came to mind; Were the "adults" in the other meeting room being stared at by policemen the entire two hours?

For the first few questions, it was visible that the audience was unsatisfied with the fact that they were segregated from the rest of the participants, but eventually settled in and calmed down. The emotional distress that many
students felt eventually died down, and the night turned to politics.

The five candidates and their parties were:
Brenda Elliott - Progressive Conservative
Alan McDonald - the Family Coalition Party,
Ben Polley - the Green Party
Liz Sandals - the Liberal Party
James Valcke - NDP.

Issues raised ranged from affordable housing, mental health, child welfare, health care, economic development, local business, education and energy concerns. Throughout the question and answer period, I noted that only one of the questions was asked by a student and the others were all asked by adults.

As the candidates gave two-minute long answers to each question one at a time, the audience’s reactions ranged from anger and outrage - shouts of “lies!” and “shame on the Tories!” were heard (mostly towards the PC), to support - mostly clapping (the Green Party, NDP and Liberal received the most positive responses), and just plain mockery - heavy laughter and frustrated sighs (towards the Family Coalition Party).

As the evening progressed, more adults wound up in the smaller room, and some students filtered out to make anti-Brenda signs and duct tape their mouths shut to symbolize the evening’s events. Although most of the candidates shared common views on certain policies, it often appeared that Brenda Elliott was on her own, supporting privatization and tax cuts, while the others did not.

The parties that seemed to generate the most audience support were the NDP, the Green Party, and at times, the Liberal Party. The Family Coalition Party seemed to be a bit of a joke, Alan read from the party platform and delivered anecdotes that seemed to have little to do with the issues at hand. Not surprisingly, Brenda Elliott did not impress many of the students in the room, who hissed and jeered at her promises and statements.

All in all, it was an interesting night...Proof that politics isn’t boring after all!

Click here to see how exciting it was...

Editor's note: Laura will also be attending the On-Campus All Candidates Meeting on Tuesday, September 23. Look for her report on Wednesday.

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