OP-ED: Government Forced to Protect Student Vote

OP-ED: Government Forced to Protect Student Vote

By: Charlie Angus


There are many destructive elements in the Conservative’s (Un)fair Elections Act, but there was one proposed change that just seemed downright bizarre and even petty. Section 18 of the Act proposed to make it illegal for Elections Canada to support school programs that teach kids about democracy like Student Vote. That’s right, illegal.


Minister Poilievre’s answer was literally unbelievable: that voter turnout is so low amongst youth that we should no longer bother trying to engage them.


In addition to grilling Conservatives in parliament, and holding cross country public meetings on C-23, the NDP started a letter-writing campaign with students and teachers from across Canada in asking the Minister to protect programs like Student Vote.


I was in contact with teachers who were extremely upset about these cynical attacks and we worked together to have their voices and the voices of their students heard.


With their help, including many students and teachers in Timmins-James Bay such as Fran Cote, we forced the government to back down. We forced the Conservative government to take a step back, listen to the students, and the teachers, and protect the educational programs for elementary and secondary students moving forward.


I have visited many schools in Timmins-James Bay to witness these fantastic programs that give our teacher’s the tools they need. Student Vote for example has engaged over three million students in over 9,000 schools across the country since 2003. In addition, Elections Canada’s works with groups like the Girls and Boys Club and Native Friendship Centres.


In a world where youth voter turnout is one of the lowest of any group and still declining, Canadians demanded the Minister for Democratic Reform recognize the importance of non-partisan educational programs that teach kids about democracy and encourage them to vote.


Canadians understood that voter turn-out is falling in-spite of these programs, not because of them. The irony is that these reforms were supposed to be brought forward in response to the Robo-calls scandal that the Conservative Party was implicated in. Dirty elections tricks are what cause voter apathy, not educational programs for youth.


While the Conservative government believes that our youth aren’t worth the effort, most Canadians that I heard from, wanted to see more young people get engaged in their communities and on the issues that matter to them


That is why I am proud of the relentless efforts New Democrats have put forth fighting the Harper government on the Unfair Elections Act. I am proud of the students and teachers in Timmins-James -Bay who helped us fight this government’s elimination of educational programs for our youth. And I am proud that we saved programs like Student Vote.