Student Vote creates future voters
CECILIA NASMITH Northumberland Today Zoe Rich (front) and McKenna Kroeger thought long and hard about which candidate would get their nod in the Student Vote program at Ganaraska Trail Public School. And both agree that, when they are old enough to exercise this franchise in real life, they will always grab the opportunity.
Election day may be next week for the rest of us but, for the students at Ganaraska Trail Public School, it was the day after Thanksgiving.
The Port Hope school is one of thousands participating in the Student Vote program, a project of the CIVIX organization that creates a parallel election for students under the voting age.
The idea is to provide future voters an opportunity to experience the election process firsthand, from learning about the issues to casting a ballot, and (in so doing) to build the habits of informed and engaged citizenship early on.
The program is affiliated with Elections Canada, Grade 5-6 teacher Andrew Major said.
About 563,000 students in 3,750 Canadian schools participated in the last Federal election. This year, they expect significant increases in those numbers.
Also in 2011, the student vote was similar to the actual vote. However, though it would have put the Conservatives ahead, it would have put them in minority-government territory.
Major's bulletin board is festooned with a variety of literature from the four parties fielding candidates in Northumberland-Peterborough South. And he reports that his students exhibit a healthy distrust of attack ads.
Over the course of Student Vote day, all participating classes cast their ballots. Each school can choose how to participate and, at Ganaraska Trail, the junior division (Grades 4 to 6) was enfranchised.
Some of Major's students acted as election volunteers, explaining the voting procedure, crossing off names as students received their ballots, directing them behind the privacy shields to mark each ballot, then explaining how to fold a ballot into thirds for deposit into the ballot box.
Making the choice after learning about the election in class brought the importance of voting home to the students, and sharpened the focus of a lot of issues that matter to them.
McKenna Kroeger spotlighted the economy and the environment as her own key concerns.
“When I have children and my children have children, I don't want them to have to live in a world that is ugly and has trash everywhere — and I still want them to have decent jobs,” McKenna said.
She spent some time investigating the local candidates to see what each said and what each could offer. In the end, she found a choice she felt happy with.
The plans this candidate announced were exactly what she wanted, she said.
“The environment and the economy and the services to make our lives better and safer — that really made me want to support (the candidate).”
Zoe Rich said she had a lot of concerns too. But while there was a list of things she would wish to change, there's one important thing she hopes will remain untouched: our heath-care system.
“It's something I think is a very good idea. I don't want it to change at all. You always have the protection you need whenever you need it,” Zoe said.
Asked if the crop of local candidates offer good choices, she diplomatically said, “Yes and no.”
She found the national leaders very impressive, with a great deal of experience to offer (some more than others, she noted).
“I decided to vote for who I voted for because I thought that representative for that party had some very good ideas, and I thought that they would make a great government,” she explained.
Asked if she plans to become one of those Canadians who regularly exercises the privilege to vote, she gave an emphatic yes.
“I think it is really important to have this opportunity, so that it's not just everyone else's choice,” McKenna said.
“I'm glad we live in Canada, where there's a democracy. We can have a voice too, and can live the way we want to, and have the government you want to have. It's really awesome.”
Other local schools participating in the Student Vote program include Trinity College School in Port Hope and C.R. Gummow Public School in Cobourg.