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Student Vote program seeks to engage young Canadians

An Elections Canada ballot box is shown on federal election day in Montreal, Monday, May 2, 2011.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Nick Kalynchuk has a keen interest in politics – "If I had to rate it out of 10, probably an eight or a nine" – he has watched the leaders debates, and he has been paying attention to the issues in the election campaign, especially the economy.

He knows whom he wants to cast a ballot for. There's just one problem: He is a few months from turning 18, and the vote is in two weeks.

"So close," jokes the Grade 12 student at Blessed Oscar Romero High School in west Edmonton.

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Thankfully, he will still have an opportunity to vote, even if it's not in a race run by Elections Canada.

His school is one of 7,392 across the country that are participating in the national Student Vote program run by Civix, a non-partisan group that has sought to engage young Canadians in democracy for more than 10 years.

Student Vote runs mock provincial and federal elections for youth, as well as providing teaching materials and training opportunities for educators.

The Globe and Mail has assisted in this year's program, with reporters helping out in educational videos and seminars. It has also partnered with Civix to pose five questions from real students in schools across the country to the leaders of the federal parties.

The Globe will publish some of the leaders' responses online and the results of the students' votes after election day.

Though the main goal of Student Vote is promoting democracy, it has also proved to be an interesting indicator of whom adult Canadians are supporting; since 2004, the party that got the most seats in the mock vote was also the party that got the most seats in the real election. In 2011, Student Vote would have given 130 seats to the Conservatives, 113 to the NDP, 47 to the Liberals, six to the Bloc Québécois and five to the Greens.

By Civix's count, more than half of all schools in the country have signed on for the Student Vote program this year.

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Mr. Kalynchuk says his friends have got into talking about politics now too. "For kids to get invested in something as heavy as deciding their next party for running the government, it's kind of a big deal. It brings to light to a lot of students how important their vote really is."

Rose-Marie McGee, a social studies teacher at Blessed Oscar Romero, said the program has also been a good influence on the students' families. "I've had stories of kids taking it home and talking to their parents, 'Oh, we're doing this Student Vote,' and their parents don't vote, and they start talking about the issues, and the parents go out and vote," she said.

"There's a huge ripple effect."

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About the Author
Assistant editor, Ottawa

Chris Hannay is assistant editor in The Globe's Ottawa bureau and author of the daily Politics newsletter. Previously, he was The Globe and Mail's digital politics editor, community editor for news and sports (working with social media and digital engagement) and a homepage editor. More

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