Principled not partisan: A lesson from students on the future of Canada’s democracy

In the early days of summer, before the election was even called, CIVIX began planning a project that would give young Canadians a voice throughout the campaign, rather than just at its close. Too often, students are only heard from after official polls close and the results are already known. We wanted to change this by inaugurating the Student Ambassador Network: an online initiative to share what future voters have to say about the 2015 federal election, and foster dialogue among high school students with those outside of their own personal and political circles. 

Beginning in September, students registered to become a Student Ambassador and received mandates from CIVIX each week. I have had the pleasure of reading and responding to these mandates, and was finally able to complete one myself last week after travelling across Canada to document the Student Vote experience.

From Halifax, to Edmonton, to Calgary, I found that students of all political stripes want a democratic process that is “civil and substantive”. This sentiment was first expressed in the Student Ambassadors’ live commentary on the leaders’ debates and has been echoed throughout the country and throughout the campaign.

Last Tuesday morning in Halifax I attended Prince Andrew High School’s all-candidates’ forum at the invitation of Keshav, the Student Ambassador responsible for organizing the event.  Representatives from every level of government were in attendance, including the mayor of Halifax Michael Savage, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment Andrew Younger, provincial leader of the opposition Jamie Baillie, and all four federal candidates from Dartmouth-Cole Harbour. Even Joel Plaskett was there to perform!

In front of these dignitaries and a packed auditorium, Keshav made an opening remark that I won’t soon forget:

“We have the opportunity to create change, an opportunity that many youth around the world don’t have. There is nothing more influential than an informed group of youth. We need to find a passion that we believe in and build on it. It’s about being principled, not partisan. It’s about the policies that are best for Canada.”

Keshav perfectly articulated an idea that so many Canadian youth seem to share – “principled, not partisan”. Could you imagine how robust our democracy would be if every Member of Parliament abided by the same standard?               


Keshav and all four federal candidates in Darthmouth-Cole Harbour.


Obligatory post-forum selfie!

The sentiment followed me to Edmonton on Wednesday, where students from Victoria School of the Arts were participating in #CBCAsks. The CBC and Student Vote teamed up to find out what matters to Canada’s future voters, and I was there to represent CIVIX and raise awareness about the issues, concerns and hopes that high school students voiced about the election.

The first question posed to students was: What attributes are important in a leader? The first response was respect.

Our conversation quickly turned to the use of negative advertisements by all political parties in attempt to gain voter favour. One student raised her hand, “I think that policies should show the contrasts between parties, not attack ads. Leaders should tell us more about why their party is the right choice, and less about why the others are the wrong one.”

On Thursday morning, the conversation continued across the country in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver with similar answers repeated by future voters from east to west. Tweeting from the event at East York Collegiate Institute in Toronto, CBC news anchor Reshmi Nair picked up the trend.

In what The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason and others have deemed the most “belligerent and divisive and, ultimately, un-Canadian” election in recent memory, the want of our youth for considerate and cooperative government is refreshing.

More than 922,000 future voters cast a Student Vote ballot, making sure their voices were heard in Canada’s 42nd federal election. Young Canadians from coast to coast to coast are willing and able to engage in our democratic process in an unprecedented number. Though none of their ballots affected the official outcome of the election, their shared idea could decide the future of our democracy.

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