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Photo courtesy of Adam Nowek

Inspiring the Youth Vote with Elections Canada

June 10, 2014

Canada’s democracy is facing some real challenges – especially in the youth department. In the 2011 federal election the turnout for youth (aged 18 to 24) voter turnout was 38.8% (compared to 70% for those aged 55 and older). We know that this decline in voting started back in the 1970s. There are many ideas about why this disengagement persists; from technological distraction and educational design, to unemployment and mobility.

I myself was once was a very disengaged 19 year-old. I’ve heard this same sense of disengagement from students across the province when I’ve spoken to them about their thoughts on voting and I’ve seen this when youth choose to read celebrity gossip instead of newspapers. I can, however, also pin point the moment when I went from being a disengaged youth, to an active citizen. It involved a faculty strike during my time as an undergrad. Witnessing how a three-year budget freeze and new budget cuts (imposed by the B.C. Government on the university) could result in potential program cuts and faculty layoffs made me realize how political decisions impacted my everyday life. Luckily, it doesn’t always take labour unrest to peak a sense of civic interest, but what it does require is the opportunity to become engaged in some way, to feel part of a process and connect with how policy affects our lives. Some people get engaged by volunteering during elections, other people join clubs. Some people take part in public consultation meetings; other people get join political parties or neighborhood associations.

In gearing up for the 2015 election Elections Canada has decided to tap into the power of those who are already developing a sense of youth civic culture, and have launched a series of “Inspire Democracy” workshops in 13 different cities across Canada.

I recently attended the Vancouver session, and at the workshop we heard from John Beebe (manager of outreach at Samara) and Taylor Gunn (the very candid President of CIVIX), who are both true innovators in the world of youth democracy. We learnt about youth-engagement challenges from Elections Canada’s perspective, and why they launched Inspire Democracy - a space for organizations and citizens to find research and share information on anything related to youth civic participation. Their overall goal is to figure out how to better inform youth on where, when and how to vote.  During our session, participants were given time to share strategies on how to get youth back to the ballot box. This information will be collected and published by Elections Canada (stay tuned for a link to the report).

By spearheading this initiative, and taking it on the road, Elections Canada has created a powerful opportunity for organizations across the country to work collectively to inspire the youth vote. They clearly understand that it is going to take a mobile and active coalition of community partners to change this now seemingly systemic problem of youth voter disengagement.

Among 18 to 24 year olds, 33% have a post-secondary qualification and 60% currently attend school. Regardless of educational attainment, young people have a lot to contribute. It is clear that young people still are not participating in the political arena in a substantial way. They still continue to face real and perceived barriers that limit their willingness and ability to participate in our democracy. And as a result, we risk failing our organizations, our cities, our provinces, our country and – most importantly – our future.

Organizations like CityStudio not only understand this, but they help mobilize youth action in the civic arena. Student Societies organize their members to pull the vote. SFU Public Square works to activate the voice of youth in a public forum. I’d like to know what you are doing to change the culture of youth civic engagement, and how you think we can better encourage youth involvement in politics? Tell us about other organizations you think are doing important work in this arena so we can spread the word. You can do this in the comment box below, on our Facebook page – insert here – or Tweet us @SFUPublicSquare.

You can contact me at if you are interested in finding out more about SFU Public Square. 


Katelyn McDougall is a Graduate Student in the SFU Urban Studies program, and Engagement and Programming Coordinator for SFU Public Square.

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