Our mission is to promote youth political engagement among students aged 16 and 17; a group with little voice in the political system and far less likely to vote despite their immense stake in politics. To accomplish this we propose to deliver presentations as high school students to fellow high schools students demonstrating ways in which youth can get involved in their communities and in politics. This will include a demonstration of how to register to vote.
All members of the University—Rosedale Youth Council believe that political disengagement among youth is a pressing problem in Canada. Contributing to this problem are deficiencies in civic education. That’s why we believe that promoting active citizenship is essential to maintaining and improving our democracy. We plan to use voter registration—namely the Ontario Register of Future Voters—to help young people overcome the initial hurdle of practicing their democratic rights. We hope that an explanation of the importance of political participation delivered by young people to other young people will be effective in galvanizing activism and engagement.
Youth political participation and voting in one’s first elections are often synonymous. Registration can act as an obstacle; it can go as far as to prevent young people from ever getting involved. It is the shared experience of young people across this country that they feel a lack of the ability to access to the political process, often leading to further feelings of powerlessness. Now, a group of young people that has come together over a mutual interest and passion for politics, we believe that our Youth Council has devised a way to empower young people in our own community and all across Canada in the same way the Youth Council has done the same for us. We have learned that only real, meaningful participation can fulfil one’s civic obligation as an active citizen of our democracy.
We aim to distance ourselves from the current, passive approach to civic education by engaging youth early and in a fashion that is relevant to their lives. An in-person presentation, with face to face communication, is essential in ensuring students are receptive. We aim to gear the presentation toward a diverse group of youth. This presentation is to be delivered in the upcoming school year with the cooperation of administrators of various schools within the riding.
The information in the presentation will be presented in three mediums: a PowerPoint presentation, videos, and this website. The in-school presentation will be the main carrier of information and will tackle two major issues: ‘Problems of youth disenfranchisement’, and ‘What youth can do to get involved’. Videos found on this website will relay similar information in an accessible format and can be accessed in-class. These will include informative videos on voter registration, and whiteboard-style animated videos with brief synopses on the issues previously mentioned. Our priority will be ensuring the media are both engaging and informative. Students will also be directed to the website after the in-class presentation.
We consider providing young people with the means to register to vote a very important step in encouraging active citizenship. Unfortunately, early voter registration is not an option in every province and territory. The alternative we propose is the collection of signatures for petitions or letters to be sent by students from various schools to their provincial representatives to support early voter registration. The presentation will leave enough time at the end to instruct students to voluntarily create their own letters addressed to officials such as the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, so that they may embark on their own journeys in activism, in the same way we have.
The presentations, in tandem with the this website and its contents, and letter writing, should help steer students towards community involvement. However, we believe that by giving students the option to notify notify us of any intent they have of getting involved would allow us the opportunity to provide them with recommendations on places to start, tailored to the desire of the individual, especially should their desired avenue of participation not be directly addressed in our presentation. With this information in mind, we intend to send a voluntary regular email to check on students progress and see if they are accomplishing goals set by themselves—another way of measuring the program’s success.
Overall, evidence shows that the more knowledge, exposure, and participation a person has with politics and/or their community, the more likely they are to vote. It is for this reason that our plan involves the provision of the opportunities, knowledge, expertise and encouragement necessary to get youth involved in all that politics has to offer and showing them the real power of politics.
Our primary quantitative goal is to increase the number of young people registered to vote and actively voting in Ontario. Accessory goals include getting views on our website, increasing the number of young people involved in our community, and increasing the number of young people in our community involved in our Target 2019 project. There are many ways in which we can track this data to address our goals. For example, by looking at the number of website clicks we can gauge the effectiveness of our website. In regards to the website, it is also our goal to have at least 60% of our audience in classrooms visit it at home after the presentations.
We believe our presentation should be dynamic, and by looking at the feedback and correspondence we have with students and teachers after the presentations, we hope to maximize the impact we can have. As previously addressed, one of the most important goals of this initiative is to increase voter turnout among youth in upcoming elections. This data can be collected by looking at statistics on voter turnout provided by Elections Ontario and Elections Canada in the future.
The stages that need to be completed for this project include the creation of a presentation, completion of our website, and the scheduling of presentation dates with schools. The creation of a presentation and completion of this website are scheduled to be completed by mid-August and are currently meeting said schedule. Booking finalized appointments at local schools will occur at the start of the upcoming school year. We have reached out to a number of schools in University—Rosedale to propose fall presentation dates and the responses received has been overwhelmingly positive and optimistic.
The midpoint of the project will be September 2018 and the endpoint will be October 2019. The midpoint is purposely selected to take place shortly after the provincial election, allowing us to make use of turnout data to report on and with which to adjust our strategy for the subsequent, 2018-2019 school year. The endpoint follows the 2019 federal election, and is when our first groups of 16 and 17 year olds will all be able to vote. The 2019 election will also provide us with quantitative data addressing the effectiveness of our project.
One benchmark of our project will be reflected in the recorded numbers of students signed up under Elections Ontario, and both the potentially acquired data regarding those students listening to our presentation who actually turned out to vote and the number of early registered voters that end up voting in general. Both those data sets are necessary to draw conclusions. For instance, if both are low, it might reflect the ineffectiveness of early registration in leading to voter turnout. If the latter is high and the former low, we know the issue is in our presentation, and if the inverse is true, we can infer that our presentation can be a necessary catalyst for action.
An additional way we will track progress is by recording what types of political involvement students we talk to are interested in and continue to follow up with them in the run up to the 2019 election. As previously mentioned, we will record the number of unique visits to different sections of the website and what information is being accessed. Finally, we will record the number of student participants who go to vote in the 2019 federal election.
There are specific dates when we plan to visit schools in our area, and we have two fixed election dates (June 7, 2018 and October 21, 2019) as our project midpoint and endpoint respectively. These dates are time periods where results will be observable because website visits, community involvement, and voter turnout will be most prominent.
We plan to engage with other young people in our community directly and we hope to show them how to engage with our community themselves. Our primary targeted demographic is sixteen and seventeen year olds because, despite the contrary being reflected in avenues of formal political participation (e.g. voting), students of our age group are often very eager to contribute and promote positive change in their communities; they simply don’t know how or feel discouraged in many instances. We realize that our presentation likely will not impact every single student in the classroom equally. Therefore, we are making ourselves well equipped to help those with a genuine interest in politics acquire the means, information, and opportunity to further their interest and to become youth leaders in their own schools and neighbourhoods. We wish to profess the idea that even though voting is incredibly important, it’s not all that one can do to get involved. Some of the other avenues of participation we will illuminate are: participation in a Youth Council/Constituency Office.
Our core presentation is crafted with the intention of exploring ways youth can engage in activism and organising. Because our presentation will be targeted towards a diverse group of youth we intend to remain as informational and non-partisan as possible in our presentations, and we will focus on ways to get involved in the community that are not entirely partisan. We believe that when other students find that they have the power to make a meaningful difference that they will be inspired to try to change their community in a positive way—whether that means organizing a fundraiser for their local soccer team, advocating for policy change in their city ward or even something as simple as tutoring other students at school who are struggling. Furthermore, if a person is engaged in their community—they are more likely to care for it—and more likely to vote when the time comes.
We plan to raise awareness for our project employing both social media and local media. Currently, a Facebook page has been created and is being equipped with relevant information pertaining to the council and this proposal. In addition, this web page is being outfitted to help direct youth to necessary material. We are very proud to have the full support of Minister Freeland and her staff. When the time comes, we hope to have our announcements echoed by Minister Freeland’s social media accounts(Twitter and Facebook) to help garner the attention of parents in our community, as well as reaching youth who follow her on social media directly. One of our current focuses is to have our initiative covered in local news media, a prospect we think will become far more plausible when the first dates with schools are fully ironed out.
This project can be easily replicated because every riding suffers from youth disengagement and has a population of youth surely keen to do something about it. Furthermore, as the University—Rosedale Youth Council has experienced first-hand, most schools are very receptive to the idea of presentations to youth by youth. However, a Youth Council may lack the resources necessary to create videos, websites and/or presentations, we believe much of our material can be altered for use in any riding, especially that which concerns the broader issue of youth engagement and means of participation. While Constituency Youth Councils in Ontario and Alberta will be able to use their provincial election registration process in the same way we have outlined, councils in other provinces and territories will not be able to use this tool due to different legislation. We believe that our core messages of promoting youth participation in the political process and providing youth with an understanding of how they can contribute to their community will still resonate in those instances. Councils in other provinces might also choose to embrace additional activism as part of their presentations by advocating for future youth registration in their home province or territory like petitions proposed earlier. For example, other councils could educate youth on the practices in Ontario and Alberta and encourage them to write to their MLA’s or MNA’s about expanding youth registration. This has the added advantage of both showing young people what it means to take action on an issue on a political level and driving home the very real consequences of youth disengagement for access to our democratic process.
Some challenges that exist are the logistics of getting Youth Council members to present at schools and getting skeptical students to buy-in to the presentations. In order to address these challenges we have begun coordinating availability for our council members with their current high schools and universities, including requesting “field trip” days or free periods for Youth Council members to present in other schools (in the same way a school might do so for a sex-ed seminar or to be taken to a local play). Relationships with school officials would be especially important in larger or more rural ridings because of the commute involved. We recommend exploring the option to Skype into classrooms or via some other method of conferencing. Engaging students in the presentations may pose a more difficult challenge because some students will inevitably hold predisposed inclinations to apathy about subjects they may not have ever really thought about. Many families also pass on predominantly negative or cynical sentiments about politics. Addressing these obstacles requires the tailoring of our own presentations to specifically target said obstacles. We plan to expand the perceived breadth of political involvement to connect with people of all backgrounds.
What makes this initiative flexible and scalable for ridings across Canada is that it requires very few resources aside from the time and energy of Youth Council members. The only expenditures we anticipate in University-Rosedale are public transit fares and ordinary office supplies when Youth Council members travel to nearby schools and distribute handouts and templates. In some rural ridings these travel expenses might be more substantial, as outlined above. That said, additional resources could be used to grow the scope of the project: for instance, other venues could be used to host workshops for youth leaders on how to organize a council or club, how to raise funds or how to engage in local outreach. However, at its most basic level, this project simply requires eager youth council members to volunteer their time and energy to create an engaging presentation.
The proposed duration of this project is approximately two years, but we believe that we must be must be open to change along the way. For this reason we think of our project is as a two year period quartered into roughly six month chunks: the first and third chunks focusing on advertising to youth and promoting involvement, and the second and last chunk focusing on analysis of data and creating new ways to engage youth. The duration is subject to change in the event of early elections and these quarters will need to be quite flexible to accommodate school calendars. In regards to the typical 8-month term for a Youth Council, this allows council members to all have the opportunity to both act on the proposal and to set the foundation for the next quarterly term.
© 2017 Chrystia Freeland. All rights reserved.