A student at Burnaby Mountain Secondary cast her vote in the Student Vote mock election. Student Vote is organized by CIVIX, a non-partisan national charity dedicated to helping youth discover and use their rights as citizens. Photo courtesy of CIVIX

Program prepares youth for the next election

  • October 16, 2019

Thousands of first-time voters — including many young people born in this century — will head to the polls in the Oct. 21 federal election, along with millennials who make up Canada’s biggest voting bloc.

But how can they be prepared to make a confident, informed decision? Student Vote, a nationwide program aimed at engaging youth who can’t cast a ballot yet — students from Grades 4 to 12 — may hold an answer.

Student Vote is organized by CIVIX, a non-partisan national charity dedicated to helping youth discover and use their rights as citizens.

About 600 students filled the gymnasium of Bishop Macdonell Catholic School in Guelph, Ont., on Oct. 1 to hear from seven local candidates vying for the position of Member of Parliament. 

“It was absolutely a wonderful experience for the students,” said Peter Martin, department head of Canadian and World Studies and a Religion teacher at the school. “It really showed how actually engaged they really are. We had students that were in that particular assembly who are not necessarily taking civics this semester, but they were very attentive to that.”

Young people are certainly having a growing impact on elections. Overall turnout for the 2015 election was 68 per cent compared to the 2011 election at 61 per cent. About 57 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds helped elect the Liberals in 2015. Electors eligible to vote for the first time voted at a higher rate — 58 per cent — than those in that category in the previous election (55 per cent).

Students at Bishop Macdonell, as well as Our Lady of Lourdes and St. James Catholic High School, attended the session to learn about political platforms and the candidates. A week before the federal election, students were scheduled to cast their own ballots in mock elections. Although most high schoolers are unable to vote in this year’s election, they will be eligible to vote in the next one scheduled for 2023.

Students asked the candidates questions about inclusivity, climate change, post-secondary student debt and youth engagement.

“Some of the candidates were here, acknowledging that past generations have not done enough for the youth of today, because they’re really inheriting the problems coming down the road,” said Martin. “Keeping the students interested is really key.”

Martin said students discuss different aspects of government in their lives and how they, as citizens, can participate in that process.

“That education certainly helps bring it forward and having these authentic experiences with these candidates in the school answering questions directly, absolutely engages them,” said Martin.

As society becomes more diverse, Martin said there’s misinformation about certain people around the world. He referenced the incident involving NDP leader Jagmeet Singh who was advised by a man to “cut off” his turban to “look like a Canadian.”

Martin said it’s important to understand each other, even when placing a vote in a ballot box.

As a World Religions teacher, he and his students discuss what other people face, their practices and similarities to their own beliefs.

“It shows out there that there’s not enough information about other people. Having a chance to talk about these other faiths, and how we are a multicultural society, is huge for students to understand.”

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