News / Canada

Mock elections make the abstract real for Canadian teenagers

Program aims to inspire political awareness

From left: students Keshav Paliwal, Robyn Laing and Matthew LeBlanc, all 17, pose with ballot boxes in Prince Andrew High School on Monday.

Haley Ryan/Metro

From left: students Keshav Paliwal, Robyn Laing and Matthew LeBlanc, all 17, pose with ballot boxes in Prince Andrew High School on Monday.

When Keshav Paliwal votes for a federal candidate next week, it won’t count — and he couldn’t be happier about it.

Paliwal, organizer of Prince Andrew High School’s Student Vote event — one of more than 7,300 mock elections being held across Canada before the official count Oct. 19 — said now is the time to get teens thinking about politics.

“I can’t vote until January when I’m 18, but if we engage ourselves now and we engage our peers before they can vote, chances are, over time, once they can … they will,” Paliwal, 17, said Monday.

As part of the Student Vote program run by the non-partisan Civix group, the Dartmouth, N.S., school will see all four federal candidates in its riding pitch their platforms to students before taking questions. Also appearing: provincial MLAs, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage — and musician Joel Plaskett, for extra attention.

Students will then drop ballots off in a mock vote, the results of which are often “very close” to election day, said political-science teacher Tim Halman.

“For many people, politics is something that happens on television and it’s something that’s abstract,” Halman said.

“It’s going to go from the abstract to the real.”

According to Elections Canada, only 39 per cent of the 18- to 24-year-old demographic voted in the last election, and the National Youth Survey Report showed “not interested in voting” came in as the biggest reason (28 per cent).

The survey said someone’s likelihood of voting “increases with higher levels of knowledge and interest in politics” and that civic education, as well as talking with family and friends, can increase “the motivation to vote.”

“If you don’t understand something, you’re not going to interact with it; you tend to ignore it,” Halman said.

NDP candidate Robert Chisholm said it’s important for him to attend to emphasize voting as a responsibility.

“It’s important for them to hear from people that are either engaged in the process or in some way leaders,” Chisholm said.

“Maybe something will connect, something will instil a sense of desire for more knowledge.”

According to Apathy is Boring, a non-partisan group aimed at youth, those who don’t vote in the first two elections in which they’re eligible are less likely to vote through their lives.

Robyn Laing and Matthew LeBlanc, who will also be on stage hosting the Student Vote event next Tuesday with Paliwal, said they hope the message of engagement means more coming from them.

“If a teacher gets up, it just sounds like another class,” LeBlanc said as Paliwal nodded.
Paliwal said he’s hoping to hear questions on federal issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, environment and economy.

“A democracy is only as strong as the people that are engaged in it,” Paliwal said.

“If people are aware … then the government’s going to be making the choices we want made, and that’s what it’s about — it’s about us.”

Laing said that before Halman asked her to help with the project, she had never thought about politics or knew what the prime minister did.

“I tried to get my mom involved because she isn’t into politics at all, so I got her voting,” Laing said with a smile.

“She’s like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I‘m like, ‘Just sit there and listen so I can have someone to talk to about it.’ It’s interesting.”

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