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Climate, contempt and cannabis

Students at Mount Douglas secondary school weren’t about to let a little detail like their ineligibility to cast a ballot in the general election soften their line of questioning for the Saanich-Gulf Islands candidates during an April 26 forum at the school.

The Grade 11 and 12 students listened to the party platforms and demanded answers to many of the issues — environment, education, economy and disfunction in Ottawa — now weighing in the minds of voters headed for the polls on May 2.

Incumbent Conservative MP Gary Lunn, clad in a Vancouver Canucks jersey, may have piggy-backed on the game seven excitement, but the climate in the room quickly took a sharp turn.

The first question of the morning asked Lunn for his thoughts on Stephen Harper being the first Prime Minister found in contempt of parliament.

The crowd cheered in support of their classmate’s query, while the other candidates smiled in their seats.

Lunn deflected with an argument against the imbalance of opposition party members in the House of Commons, but the second question didn’t get any easier for the MP, who has represented the riding since 1997.

“In your platform, those two words ‘climate change’ aren’t mentioned once,” another student said. “You mention being strong on the environment, but where is your environmental policy and why haven’t you put it into parliament yet?”

Cheers from the crowd turned to laughter when Lunn responded.

“I absolutely believe that I’m as strong an environmentalist as anybody sitting up there.”

His reasoning: investing in clean energy and following the Kyoto agreement targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 17 per cent by 2020 — without “shutting down the economy.” He also took credit for creating the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

Edith Loring-Kuhanga was next in the hot seat, faced with a vein of criticism not foreign to the New Democrats: how will the NDP control debt considering the party’s focus on social programs?

“Our priorities are not giving big corporations tax breaks at the cost of consumers,” said Loring-Kahunga, who also spoke of her First Nations heritage and devotion to family. “Our priorities are about protecting what’s important to us.”

Healthcare and care for seniors, not “jets and jails” formed the basis of the Saanich school board trustee’s wishlist for the riding.

Liberal candidate Renée Hetherington, who joined politics following her experience at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, didn’t refute Lunn’s statement on being an environmentalist. Instead, she spoke to her own experiences as a business woman and a research scientist “not a lawyer or a career politician,” and called out the Green Party on their proposed pollution tax.

“If the Green Party had the option of actually implementing their policies — which is not going to happen … that would mean that Canada’s economy would be totally uncompetitive in the western world,” she said.

Green candidate Elizabeth May seemed to be the clear fan favourite of the morning, which she kicked off by speaking to her party’s “vision green.”

“The platform of this election speaks to smart economy, strong communities, true democracy and we have a budget that shows how we’re going to spend that money and exactly how it pays for itself,” May said.

Among May’s economic promises: to break down the deficit faster than the 2011 Conservative proposed budget.

As interested as the future generation of voters were in May and Lunn’s economic strategies, a handful of questions directed at the federal Green leader roused the crowd the most.

When asked, May reiterated the Greens’ support of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender community and same sex marriages, as well as the legalization of marijuana –— both statements yielding a rock star reception from the young audience.

Soon after, the student-run forum broke with one teen’s sincere, yet philosophical: “why can’t you guys all work together?”

To which Lunn answered: “You have to work together, but you have to be realistic that you’re running on a platform and you have to defend those principals. And that’s what we’re doing.”