Getting a handle on Canadian democracy one student at a time

By David F. Rooney

Declining voter participation rates, particularly among young Canadians, are fact of political life that almost everyone is familiar with. Young people, the popular wisdom goes, are apathetic, politically ignorant and bored. Consequently, they don’t vote.

Some or even all of that may be true but schools are doing what they can to instil a glimmer of understanding and perhaps even interest in elementary school children through the national Student Vote program. Local schools here in Revelstoke were among the 4,000 schools across Canada that participated in the program, which is offered in conjunction with official federal and provincial elections.

“Student Vote tries to get them early,” says Mountain View Elementary Librarian Natalie MacLeod. “Some students are politically aware. They hear their parents and other adults talking about politics and some even ask their parents questions about politics, too. Others think government is responsible for shopping malls.

“But you know, just going through this process helps them understand a little better.”

She said that students examined real riding maps, examined campaign posters and asked lots of questions. Some of the questions were pretty naive, such as “who’s the best candidate?” Others were more thoughtful, such as “who can do the most for our town?”

Across town at Arrow Heights Elementary School, students there were busy asking similar questions.

“Some aren’t terribly interested but many of them are interested,” said Grade 5/6 teacher Amber Thompson.

Ironically the Student Vote Program has also helped her understand Canadian politics. An immigrant from the United Kingdom she has found the program’s highly detailed parallel election quite helpful to understanding the mechanics of Canadian democracy.

So once the students voted how did the returns shake out? You’ll have check back with The Current on Monday evening to find out!

Please click here to find out more about the Student Vote program.

Mountain View Elementary Librarian Nancy MacLeod goes over the rules with an eager and engaged group of Grade 4/5 students at Mountain View Elementary School last Wednesday. These students were involved in the Student Vote Program, which seeks to teach kids how Canadian democracy works. The students followed all the rules of a regular adult election and ran a voting station in their school that all students in Grades 4-6 voted at. Like their parents and other adult Revelstokians they voted for the candidates who are running in the 2011 federal election. David F. Rooney photo
The first step was checking to make sure the ballot boxes were empty. David F. Rooney photo
Once they're sure the ballot boxes were empty the students reassembled them. David F. Rooney photo
Then Courtney Atkinson and Ben MacDonald sealed the boxes to make sure couldn't be tampered with. David F. Rooney photo
Just like official Elections Canada workers, Hannah Bellerose and Elizabeth Elliott took down each student voter's address before handing them a ballot. David F. Rooney photo
Yes, all of the cardboard voting screens and ballot boxes are real ones courtesy of Elections Canada. David F. Rooney photo
Students cast their ballots under Courtney and Ben's watchful gaze. David F. Rooney photo
Students line up to vote at Arrow Heights Elementary where Erin Behncke and Kale Blakely took their information and handed out ballots. David F. Rooney photo
And once you have a ballot you get to fill it out, of course. David F. Rooney photo
Simon Brittin imposes a little order as two voters try to approached the ballot box at the same time. David F. Rooney photo