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Opioid crisis top of mind for Chilliwack youth during Student Vote event

Chilliwack middle school students speak about concerns with mental health and drug abuse
Beau Pelletier, Ashlyn Durie, Catherine Patterson and Olivia McLatchy are all Grade 6 students at CMS who decided to vote Green for Student Vote, Oct. 22, 2020, and who want to see an end to the opioid crisis. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)

Beau Pelletier stands behind the voting booth in her Grade 6 classroom at Chilliwack middle school.

She shifts from one foot to the other. She looks up to the ceiling, then back at her ballot. Time passes as she thinks about who to vote for, so much time that her classmates ask what’s going on.

“I don’t know anything about the Independent candidate,” she’s just realized. “I don’t know if they’re good or bad.”

She’s not joking around. She’s really given this some thought. In the end, she gave her vote to Sonia Furstenau and the Green Party.

She’s not alone. At least three others in her class voted for the Greens in the 2020 Student Vote. Tens of thousands of students across B.C. cast a ballot for their favourites on Oct. 21 and 22. And while the results have no bearing on the Provincial election, they do offer a glimpse into what issues are important for today’s youth.

For Beau and her classmates, one of the most pressing issues is the opioid crisis.

They largely chose the Greens because of the mental health support Furstenau has laid out in her plans.

Catherine Patterson says she worries about the kids her age who are already doing drugs. They send around videos of “smoking from bongs,” and she can see it growing worse from there.

All the girls nod and look at each other, an inside secret they maybe don’t always share with adults.

“Drug overdoses have gone up,” she adds. “He (Premier John Horgan) is not doing anything about it.”

READ MORE: Student Votes elects Liberal minority

Fursteneau is the “best of the bunch” Beau adds, and like her friends, she’s sure that mental health supports for youth will help prevent a life of drug addiction for her peers.

The two issues go hand-in-hand, they explain. They believe better mental health care will eventually help the drug problem in B.C.

“If we solve one problem, you basically solve another,” says Olivia McLatchy. “People take drugs to feel better.”

“A lot of people who are homeless are looked down upon, and it’s not their fault they’re here,” Ashlyn Durie adds. “They have to be somewhere.”

The group also agreed that they are concerned about higher taxes, something they say would happen with a continued NDP government.

It’s not unusual for strong support to be shown by B.C. youth for the Green Party. In 2017, the Student Vote gave the BC NDP a majority government with 60 seats, and put the Greens in official opposition with 14 seats. The youth gave the BC Liberals just 12 seats.

The results of the Student Vote event are kept secret until Election Day and released along with the final numbers, as to not somehow influence voters. It also gives the students involved the full experience of what it’s like to be a real voter.

Several classes at CMS, and in public and private schools around Chilliwack, will have taken part this year as they have in the past.

The polling stations this year at CMS are in the classroom to stay within cohorts. Two students, Emily Casey and Erica Grozell, were chosen as voting officers for the event. Students Sam Meyles and Connor Wilton were hired as voting clerks, and a scrutineer would also be used to oversee the final count.

Teacher Nicole Choi said her class has been working with the Student Votes material and reviewing leadership debate highlights for the past two weeks.

She was surprised how engaged and knowledgeable the kids were coming into the lessons.

“They have strong opinions,” she said. “And a lot better understanding than I thought they would have.”

But not everyone in the class was looking to change the government at this point.

One student said he didn’t want to vote out the sitting premier.

“I just want things to stay the way they are,” he said. “That would be sad to be kicked out of your office.”

READ MORE: More than 5,000 school-aged kids cast ballots in Chilliwack-Hope Student Vote 2019


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The voting station mimics a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students have to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
Sam Meyles, (left) folds a ballot for classmate Erica Grozell (looking away), as Connor Wilton and Emily Casey look on. The four were tapped to be the voting officers and voting clerks for their Grade 6 classroom’s Student Vote at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)

Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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