Keili Bartlett

Local Journalism Initiative

Neslon-Creston candidates running in the upcoming B.C. snap election found themselves back in the classroom – at least virtually – on October 16. The Grade 6, 7 and 8 students at Trafalgar Middle School invited the riding’s could-be reps to a debate on Zoom.

Wanda Machado, a Grade 6 French Immersion teacher at the school, organized and moderated the event. Classes discussed what questions to ask ahead of time, and the candidates each had one minute to answer.

“Democracy only can work if its citizens are informed. They need to start understanding how to become informed: what are the issues at hand, how do they vote?,” Machado said of the importance of a student-hosted debate.

Candidates also had an opportunity to introduce themselves to the students. Brittny Anderson, the NDP candidate, introduced herself as a former student of Trafalgar. Libertarian candidate Terry Tiessen told students that his son is one of their peers. Tanya Finley, running for the Liberal Party, spoke of her experience as a local business owner.

Technical difficulties meant the Green party candidate, Nichole Charlwood, was unable to participate.

Although the students are young, their questions were hard-hitting, covering topics from racism, environmental issues, Indigenous rights to supports for LGBTQ people. Questions about local matters included where skateboards will be allowed in Nelson and how active transportation will be encouraged. Another student asked candidates what they would do about logging at Cottonwood Lake, if elected.

While too young to vote in this election, Machado pointed out after the event that it will only be a few more elections before the students at Trafalgar Middle School can cast official ballots. The aim of an event such as the all-candidates debate last Friday is to get students familiar and comfortable with the voting process.

The Student Vote also allows the kids to cast their vote, and see it tallied. The results can then be compared to the official election results. In the 2017 provincial election, the Student Vote results and official election results were different: If the youth had their way, the Green Party would have won 14 seats and 28.5 per cent of the popular vote.

“They are thinking about these issues. That’s part of why it is actually important to start to engage them at this age, because they really can understand these issues and they do have opinions,” Machado said. “They are invested in their future. They want to see things happen based on what happens in government. They are asking real questions that they are concerned about.”

After the debate, classes began discussions about their impressions of candidates. In the upcoming week, students will continue to research party and candidate platforms.

“The power of actually seeing a real person cannot be understated,” Machado said. “Even this was much different from having the forum where you actually saw the candidates in person. I think that is even more powerful.”

Direct contact with candidates, she added, makes the election seem more real and not so abstract for the students. Interactions like the debate can help them build a connection with the politics that impact their lives.

As for what the candidates will get out of the event, Machado said she hopes they will realize what issues the youth of the riding are facing.

“They’re important too. They have a voice,” Machado said.

The whole debate can be viewed at

Next, the students will cast their own vote on Thursday, October 22. The official election day (for adult voters) is Saturday, October 24.

This segment originally aired on Kootenay Co-op Radio’s Kootenay Morning show on Oct. 19. Find episodes here.