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Election debate at Lourdes high school may have been the most dramatic so far (10 photos)

Six candidates squared off in a debate Wednesday in front of Grade 8 and high school students

Anyone expecting a debate held in front of hundreds of local elementary and high school students to feature a watering-down of the issues may have been surprised Wednesday, as no subject was off the table.

A candidate's debate at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School featured six of the eight local candidates vying for Guelph's seat at Queen's Park — and a whole lot of drama.

Paul Zuccala, organizer and moderator for the debate, is head of the Canada and World Studies department at Lourdes.

As part of the structure of the debate, Zuccala allowed candidates to direct questions at any other candidate on the dais — on any subject.

The resulting discourse resulted in some of the more dramatic moments seen so far in the local debating sphere — and the students were enjoying every second of the drama.

Ontario PC candidate Ray Ferraro was challenged by Liberal candidate Sly Castaldi as to why his party leader Doug Ford is seeking to scrap the current sexual education curriculum in the province's schools.

Ferraro responded by saying, “I don’t think our party is talking about changing the curriculum."

He continued by talking about how the Ontario PCs will find efficiencies if elected.

”We’re going to get money without raising taxes,” said Ferraro.

Castaldi rebutted by saying Doug Ford has been clear that he will repeal the sex ed curriculum.

“Young people need the skills and tools to protect themselves against sexual predators online, against human trafficking and sexual violence,” said Castaldi.

In his response, Ferraro said too much attention is being placed on the party leaders.

“Doug Ford is not a dictator. When Doug Ford comes out and says something, we have a very experienced group of people already in the Conservative Party that will make those decisions. It’s not a one person decision," said Ferraro.

Thomas Mooney, who is running under the newly-created Ontario Party, said he would like to respond to Ferraro's answer.

“Yeah, I would like to respond to that as well,” said NDP candidate Aggie Mlynarz, to collected "oohs" from the audience.

Mooney said to Ferraro, “the voice should be coming from you, not some back room in some other city where you have no say of what goes on,” to more oohs from the audience.

Mlynarz added, “I just have one comment: Doug Ford superceded the democratic process. He appointed 15 candidates, not allowing their ridings to democratically elect them, including you, Ray.”

The audience erupted in a combination of cheers and "oohs."

“You don’t know the details,” said Ferraro in the last words on the subject.

Zuccala wanted to give candidates an opportunity to lay out their platforms, but also wanted to introduce the structure to allow for the direct challenges.

"It's more dynamic and you get to see some of the personal tensions," Zuccala told GuelphToday after the debate.

Allowing candidates to directly challenge any of their opponents on any topic helped keep them all on their toes and helped to avoid them sticking to sound bites, he said.

"Some of the drama sells and we want politics to be exciting," said Zuccala.

In another exchange, Mlynarz challenged Ferraro on how the Ontario PCs plan to make pharmacare and dental care affordable if they don't plan on increasing the minimum wage.

Ferraro said the PCs are the only party that is going to stop taking money out of the pockets of Ontarians before addressing the students directly.

“You go home tonight and ask your parents what they are paying in taxes on their house, what they are paying on the hydro, what they are paying on their taxes if they own a small business," he said. 

In an earlier segment of the debate, questions were posed to all of the candidates by students in Lourdes' civics class.

Grace Van Hemmen, a Grade 10 student at Lourdes, asked candidates their position on keeping separate public and Catholic school boards.

The Green Party candidate and party leader Mike Schreiner and Juanita Burnett of the Communist Party were the only two of the six candidates to say their parties will look into the possibility of combining the boards.

After the debate, Van Hemmen told GuelphToday she was satisfied that four of the six candidates said they were planning on keeping the two boards the way they are.

She said she appreciated that Burnett and Schreiner answered the question honestly.

"I appreciate they actually had reasons for saying that, it wasn’t just ‘oh we’re cutting that,’” said Van Hemmen.

None of the Above Party candidate Paul Taylor and Mike Riehl of the Libertarian Party were not in attendance at Wednesday's debate.

Seventeen-year-old Brendan Hollingsworth will not be of voting age for the provincial election, but notes he will be able to vote in the 2019 federal election.

He is one of a number of young people who are politically active.

In his capacity as student trustee for the Wellington Catholic District School Board, Hollingsworth acted as timekeeper for Wednesday's debate.

He appreciated that the discussion by candidates was not dumbed-down for the audience, which included Lourdes students and a number of Grade 8 classes from the district.

Although most in the audience will not be of age to vote in the June 7 provincial election, many will be old enough to vote in 2022.

“Younger people are getting more involved in politics — myself included," said Hollingsworth. "It’s good (for the candidates) to keep in touch with the people that are going to become the future voters.”

Another question from students asked for the candidates' views on election reform and lowering the age of voting to 16.

Zuccala said the questions posed by the civics students prove they are engaged in the issues.

"They are aware, they have the time to spend on them and it makes a pretty good argument in my mind for events like this and for a reduction in the voting age," said Zuccala.

Hollingsworth said he agrees with lowering the voting age to 16.

“True democracy in action would be letting those who want to be involved in politics, be involved in the democratic process this country has, if they want to vote and decide who governs them? More power to them,” he said.

Students at Lourdes will be holding a mock vote the day before the election.

"Of course, the results wont count, but parties are increasingly taking note because they are the future voters. It helps give them an idea where their future electorate are at and maybe moving their policies in the direction they have to to continue to get support,” said Zuccala.