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Local students get a taste of democracy

Student Vote gets youth involved in Canada’s election process
Grade 8 students Alex Stephens getS her voice heard during the mock vote at J.L. Crowe Secondary.

After exercising their democratic right by casting ballots at school, Greater Trail students wait to see if their political opinion sways far from their parents’.

Students from J. L. Crowe Secondary, Glenmerry Elementary, MacLean Elementary and Fruitvale Elementary just participated in Student Vote, a mock federal election for up-and-coming voters that aims to convince young people to participate in democracy.

The student program, offered through Elections Canada, encourages children to research party platforms and design mock campaigns leading up to the general election. The mock vote happens days before adults head to the polls and runs like a real election with official ballot boxes and assigned staff.

While senior students at the elementary level and high school youth were all given a chance to mark an “X” for Conservatives, Liberals, NDP or Greens, Glenmerry Elementary took it a step further by selecting four representatives in grades 5 and 6 to act as candidates for the four respective parties.

Crowe had a steady stream of students filing into the high school’s multi-purpose room Thursday, flexing their power to vote.

“I think it’s really important because in the last federal election and in previous elections before, the youth turnout from 18-24 has been the lowest voter-turnout out of any age group,” said Ami Haworth, a history teacher at Crowe who helped organize the event.

“We need to get youth interested and excited about the fact that they have the right to have a say in their democracy.

“And to get them excited about that early so when they can actually vote, it’s something that they want to participate in.”

Only 37.4 per cent or 1.1 million registered youth between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the 2008 election.

The low voter turnout doesn’t surprise Grade 12 student Neil Kragh.

“It seems like no matter who we vote for, we always sort of get the same kind of people in and most of the time, I don’t feel that they’re all that different in terms of what they want,” said Kragh.

Working the polls station with him, fellow senior student Emily Higgins said the image the party leaders portray in their “hate ads” doesn’t entice the young voter. But she said there has been some success in the media that speaks to the younger generation.

“I think Rick Mercer’s rant made a big impact,” she said. “Someone else may not have been as affective because when he does it, it makes you feel as if he’s part of your generation.”

Grad president Amber Oosthuyzen is drawn to the Green Party because she feels their focus on the environment not only addresses a long-term vision to look after Canadians but also the country’s vast land and water.

“I want a leader that cares about not just the current state of the county but also thinks about what the future will look like because the changes they make now will be our reality,” she said.

Though she calls the younger demographic passive, Oosthuyzen feels that the more youth are welcomed into the political realm, the more likely they’ll head to the polls.

“I think, what they’ll take is the experience,” she said, referring to her young peers. “So when the time comes for them to have the opportunity to vote, they can look back and think it only took five minutes out of my day, which isn’t that long to have a say in what our country’s future looks like.”

Student Vote is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works with educators and education stakeholders to deliver experiential learning opportunities to help young Canadians understand and practice the responsibilities of their citizenship.

In 2008, more than 500,000 students took part in the program, selecting a Conservative minority government.

Student Vote Canada will not release the results of this year’s votes until after the polls close today.