Canada's Democracy Week Blog

Chief Electoral Officer of Canada — Marc Mayrand

Mr. Marc Mayrand

Canada's Democracy Week provides a tremendous opportunity to spark a national conversation about democratic principles and values. It is through dialogue that ideas flourish and people become engaged in the active citizenship that is our democracy.

Each year, Canada's Democracy Week depends on the participation of a diverse group of partners across Canada – each of whom has an abiding interest and investment in our democracy. Elections Canada has invited a number of these partners to join the conversation by posting entries to this blog that describe their activities and particular interest in Canada's Democracy Week.

I invite you to read these stories, share them through social media and use the material to fuel your own conversations – with your friends, family, network or colleagues.

Remember – we all own a piece of Canada's democratic system, so we all share in the responsibility to ensure that our democracy continues to thrive. One way we can do this is by joining the conversation ourselves.

Marc Mayrand
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada



An interview with summer student Roya Shams

Roya Shams

Roya Shams
Forum for Young Canadians
@forum4YC

Forum for Young Canadians, a program under the Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada, is proud to welcome our new summer student, Roya Shams. Roya has a keen interest in the field of politics and is quite informed on world issues. She grew up in Afghanistan, and her perseverance and dedication to getting a proper education brought her to Canada. Roya hopes to someday obtain an education in political science and law. After attending Forum for Young Canadians in March 2013, Roya was exposed to all aspects of the Canadian federal government, which sparked her interest in democratic processes even more. Roya is an excellent example of youth participation in politics, with an understanding of what it is like to not have the right to express yourself, vote or participate in any aspect of politics.

  1. What does democracy mean to you?

    In my opinion, democracy is determined by the population, and everyone has their own voice.

  2. Why do you think democracy is an important part of society?

    I think democracy is the most important part of society because it brings people together by uniting them through discussion on political issues. Democracy also allows people to have a sense of belonging within their society.

  3. Where do you see democracy in action?

    I have lived in Canada for almost two years, and I have seen democracy in action everywhere, especially for women. Women are free and have rights equal to those of men. I really learned about democracy when I attended Forum for Young Canadians. The program taught me how democracy works in Canada, such as the process of voting, women's rights, our representative's responsibility in the federal government and how every member of society can have a voice.

  4. How important do you think it is to vote in elections?

    Voting is very important because people have the ability to choose who they believe is the right person to lead their country. Citizens must vote in order for their political leaders to reflect the interests of the population.

  5. What would you say to teenagers who are uninterested in politics?

    My message to all teenagers would be that politics is not just about government. We are all surrounded by politics every day; our identity, our history and our culture is our politics. So let's come together and learn about ourselves and know our background; we are the future of this country.

  6. What is the most interesting thing you learned about young people all around the country?

    The most interesting thing that I have learned about young people from all across Canada is their motivation to be involved in their communities. Canadian youth are welcoming and proud of where they come from.

If you would like to participate in Forum for Young Canadians and learn more about politics in your country, visit www.forum.ca.


Democracy is not gained through osmosis, or innate in us; it is taught.

Stephen Young

Stephen Kagansky-Young
Founder and Executive Director
Civics Education Network
@stephen_young
@CivicsNetwork

Democracy is not gained through osmosis, or innate in us; it is taught. We were not brought into this world with an understanding of democracy, or how to engage with it. At some point in our lives, we are taught, either superficially or contextually, about what our role in democracy is and what it means to participate in it. Our instructor could have been our parents, our peers, a political organizer, a non-profit volunteer coordinator or perhaps, for some of you, a school teacher.

The question really becomes, what were you taught? Democracy is not a simple thing, it is not just 'rule by the people'. It is so much more. If you truly want to put democracy into action, to make it work for you, there are knowledge and skills you need to make it happen. A brief list of the knowledge and skills which must be taught would look something like this:

  • how to network and collaborate
  • how to communicate and advocate
  • understanding the workings of government
  • how to vote and how to make an informed decision
  • how to research
  • how to promote an event or position
  • how to organize people
  • how to listen, debate and compromise

Now how many of those skills, applied to the democratic functioning of our government and communities, were you taught? Did your high school teachers go beyond how to vote? Perhaps they taught you how we elect a prime minister, but did you learn how to organize a protest or set up a petition? How about learning how to convince your city councillor to make changes which are good for your community?

The theme of Canada's Democracy Week is "Connect with democracy". Make your community better. Make democracy work for you. Create change. Doing this requires education. Every student should be given the opportunity to learn what they need to learn to connect with their democracy. This is where the Civics Education Network (CEN) is filling the gap.

As a high school teacher in Ontario, I realized that we were missing a golden opportunity. Students are required in Grade 10 to take a civics course, and the curriculum further encourages the teaching of civic engagement across all disciplines. This represents an enormous opportunity to teach democracy to every student in Ontario. The problem, however, is simple and predictable – the majority of the teachers who end up teaching this course were not taught democracy themselves. They do not have the knowledge and skills necessary for the task. All because they themselves were not supported in that regard.

In 2006 I formed CEN to help alleviate this problem. The idea was simple: give teachers of civics and politics a source of support to better teach democracy. CEN immediately set out to provide professional development, resources and programs which enhanced the ability of teachers to teach democracy to their students. Success came quickly. Today we offer an annual conference, evening workshops, a resource database, a speakers bureau and more.

To date we have held five conferences on themes as varied as youth agency, local government and teaching civic engagement. We have hosted a wide variety of speakers, held numerous workshops and exposed countless educators to resources, concepts and best practices that they would otherwise have not had access to. We have brought activists and politicians of all levels into classrooms to inspire, motivate and teach students. As I write this, we are working to expand CEN beyond its base of teachers, reaching out to a variety of educators, developing best practices for teaching effective participation in Canada's democracy. We are examining ways to celebrate success and improve results for the future.

How do I connect with my democracy? By teaching the next generation how to put democracy into action and make it work for them.

About the Civics Education Network

Since 2006 the Civics Education Network has worked to improve the teaching of civics and politics in Ontario's schools. CEN's vision is to see every student in Ontario leave high school with a passion for civic engagement and possessing the tools to become an active citizen.



The Numbers are on Our Side. We Young Canadians Really, Really Need to Turn Our Politics into Votes

Youri Cormier

Youri Cormier
Executive Director - Apathy is Boring
@YouriCormier
@apathyisboring

It's not true that Canada has an overall low voter turnout. The reality is far more segmented. For Canadians ages 65-74, the participation rate hasn't really dropped in the past 50 years. They're still voting at rates of 75%, just like they did when they were younger. People aged 55-64 are voting at 71%. The problem is with us bothersome kids. During the last federal elections, 38,8% of Canadians aged 18-24 opted in and voted and it was 45,1% in the case of those aged 25-34. We're the ones causing the decline, and it's a big impact on the whole, because we represent a large chunk of Canada's population.

Enter the stereotypes: we're lazy; we don't care; we're apathetic... Lawrence Martin from the Globe and Mail took it a bit further, "Instead of fighting for change, [young Canadians] wallow in their vanities and entitlements."Footnote 1 Really? When you consider the scope of youth-led movements like Occupy Wall Street or the student protests in Quebec in 2012, it's hard to believe those who claim that young Canadians are thoroughly apathetic. In fact studies are now showing that the new incoming 'millennial' generation (or Gen. Y) is doing more volunteering and community work than the previous 'Generation X'. We're not disengaged 'politically', even though many of us might be disengaged 'electorally'. There's a difference. In the coming lines, let's break down the stereotypes. Let's talk about why youth don't vote and why the numbers suggest they really, really should, and how we can help to make sure that happens among your peers.

Many factors contribute to electoral disengagement, and frankly, it probably doesn't have anything to do with some preconceived ideas about 'generational' identities or predispositions. Our times are different, and so are our new realities. First off, we're more educated than before, so most of us are leaving our communities to go off to college in a new city. And afterwards, because jobs are scarce for young professionals, we're not just moving from city to city, but to different provinces and all over the world to find work. If you're like me, you might have moved seven times in the past five years for work and school. Moving a lot means that your registration with Elections Canada always has to be updated every time you want to vote. If you're someone's roommate, rather than the person on the lease, it might also mean you're not receiving a reminder in the mail when elections come around. It's more complicated for me than for my parents, who've lived in two different houses in the past 26 years, and have been residents of the same province since the late 1960s.

That being said, having easier access to voting doesn't necessarily make a huge difference to whether people will vote or not: the question really comes down to finding the motivation to vote. Why should we? When you think it through, you realize the reasons are pretty compelling.

Youth often express that their 'reason' for not voting is that 1) they feel inadequately informed, 2) they think that all the candidates are the same - you're dealt corruption and lack of transparency every time, and 3) voting just means you're giving your approval to a system you're angry at in the first place. With regard to the first two points, it seems like a bit of a cop out. We're the most informed generation in history. It's all in the palm of our hands, literally. If you want to know just how different the candidates actually are, their bios, platforms, speeches are all available online. It might be that we're feeling overwhelmed by too much information, in which case it's important that organizations like Apathy is Boring are providing tools to help youth access and digest all this information. As for corruption and transparency, democracy's the best tool we have to minimize it, since we hold the power to hire the right people, fire the wrong ones. When you vote, you're asserting your demands and keeping politicians in check. Ask anyone who participated in the Arab Spring just how difficult it can be to get rid of corrupt politicians. We're lucky here, politicians have no impunity. If it's fraud, it's jail.

The third reason is more difficult to deal with. It's normal when living in a community, there are grievances. For example, we know that young Canadians today are poorer relative to the rest of society than they have ever been.Footnote 2 It's been argued that because of demographics, politicians don't listen to youth... they listen to baby-boomers, and older Canadians because they represent the bulk of the voters. Politicians might strategically vote in laws that are good to get votes from older generations, at the risk of alienating the younger ones, because it pays off at the polls. Since the early 1990's not only has going to school become more expensive, the prospects for once you graduate have gotten worse. Youth unemployment has risen relative to the overall unemployment rate and the economic crisis hurt youth far more than older Canadians... often, we were the first ones fired when the going got tough, and the last ones rehired when things were going better. So there's anger and a sense of injustice and people point to governmental economic policy... but it's a vicious circle: the less we young Canadians vote, the greater the incentive politicians will have to cater to swaying the vote of older Canadians who are not only more numerous, they are also voting at double our rates. Opting out of the system is a sure way to become invisible to it. So while all three reasons might be legitimate concerns, none of them are a good reason not to vote; it's the opposite.

In a first past the post electoral system like Canada's with five major parties and dozens of minor ones, distributed in 308 different ridings (338 ridings beginning in 2015), it's not true that your one vote is a tiny fraction among 24 million electors on the list. In fact, Members of Parliament get elected based on a number of votes in thousands, not millions, and often the difference between the top three candidates on some occasions might be measured in hundreds of votes. If you can convince 100 people to vote one way or another in your riding, you may actually have far more impact than you imagine. Did you know that if you vote, everyone who you live with is 60% more likely to vote? Footnote 3 Voting is contagious. And on top of that, it's habit-forming. People who vote in their first few elections tend to vote for the rest of their lives.Footnote 4 Those who don't vote early tend not to vote later in life either. To safeguard our democracy, we need to break through that two or three election barrier, and that will set into motion our presence in the political system, it's how we'll tell politicians to listen: "Hey! We're here. We're voting. What do you have to offer?"

Youth between the ages of 18 to 34 represent a large percentage of the population: there's roughly 8 million of us, that's more than even the baby boomer generation. And how do those numbers translate to politics? To compare, during the last elections, the Conservatives won with 5.8 million votes, the NDP had 4.5 million, the Liberals, 2.8 million, the Bloc, 891,000, and the Greens 572,000.Footnote 5 If those of us who are eligible to vote were to turn out at a rate of 75%, on par with older Canadians, instead of 38,8% and 45.1%, this would add an extra 2.6 million ballots into the boxes.Footnote 6 Enough to configure Parliament in any way you like.


Footnote 1 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/if-theres-an-inspiration-deficit-in-our-politics-blame-it-on-the-young/article788735/ (August 10, 2009)

Footnote 2 Stats available in French, in this previous article of mine in La Presse : http://www.lapresse.ca/opinions/201107/15/01-4418356-pauvres-tanguy.php

Footnote 3 Nickerson, David. "Is Voting Contagious? Evidence from Two Field Experiments" American Political Science Review. Vol. 120. Issue 1 13 Feb. 2008. Online. 21 June 2013.

Footnote 4 Mark N. Franklin, Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Footnote 5http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/ElectionsAndRidings/ResultsParty.aspx?Season=0&Parliament=1924d334-6bd0-4cb3-8793-cee640025ff6

Footnote 6 Based on demographic information from Stats Canada, 2012 http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo10a-eng.htm


Creating Space for Everyday Democracy and Celebrating Canada's 150th: A Q&A with Peter MacLeod

Peter MacLeod

Peter MacLeod
MASS Principal
@petermacleod
@masslbp

How is your company trying to put democracy into action?

At MASS LBP, we're constantly working on how we can reach Canadians, and provide them with a seat at the table for some of the country's most interesting policy discussions. Now by interesting, this could be the makeup of services at a local hospital or their views on mitigating climate change. The point is that we believe governments everywhere can do more to engage Canadians more effectively and more creatively. And over the course of the past seven years we've developed some really interesting techniques that pry open the policy process and put citizens at the centre.

MASS is known for its pioneering Civic Lotteries and Citizen Reference Panels. How do these two models work?

It's hard to believe but already we've convened 18 different Citizen Reference Panels on behalf of so many different kinds of public organizations. In each, a group of 24 to 36 randomly selected citizens meets, much like a jury, to reach a rough kind of consensus and provide detailed policy advice to government. In the past year, we've held panels on everything from new condominium legislation for the Ontario government, to a $50B investment strategy for the Toronto-region transportation authority, to a new arts policy for the City of Calgary. We use these two models to create a public dialogue that is representative of the broader community and capable of going deep in order to reconcile differences of perspective. What's remarkable is that this work, which is based on the landmark experience of the British Columbia and Ontario citizens' assemblies on electoral reform, has made Canada an increasingly recognized hotspot for democratic innovation.

Why are citizens motivated to participate?

For one, I think we dramatically underestimate the appetite and interest of Canadians to play a more substantial role in public affairs. But that's the trick of it, isn't it? It's not much use when we simply ask people what they think. We need to give people a way to be a part of the problem-solving process. People want to lend a hand, more than they want to have a say. Basically we design our projects to interrupt what has become a cycle of low expectations: citizens are often skeptical of government, and often governments have developed a real aversion to open dialogue.

Where do elections fit into all of this?

Elections are vitally important to the legitimacy and strength of our democratic institutions, but it's also important to remember that democracy doesn't simply happen at election time. This is why we focus on citizen engagement in the space between elections. In fact, I think there's a very positive relationship between there being robust opportunities for people to learn about and contribute to the work of government outside of the election period, and more people ultimately participating in the election process. We can see this from our work, where for the first time people feel valued by policy-makers, and from those jurisdictions – like in northern Europe –where political parties and governments have a much stronger tradition of civic involvement. 

What's coming up on your horizon?

We're not just thinking about our horizon. We're thinking about Canada's. And this is so important: In 2017, Canada will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. We have spent the past several years quietly working on this. Most recently we worked this spring with CBC/Radio-Canada, the Community Foundations of Canada and VIA Rail to launch a national dialogue concerning the Sesquicentennial. Ultimately we think 2017 will provide so many great and formative opportunities for Canadians to connect, collaborate and learn from one another. Every Canadian should be part of not only the celebration, but the preparations as well. We're a small shop, but we're doing what we can to see that the country is ready!


Don't Check Out – Democracy Beyond the Vote

Jessica M??

Jessica McCormick
National Chairperson
Canadian Federation of Students
@jessmccormick
@CFSFCEE

Everyone likes to have an opinion on youth these days. "They're entitled! They just don't care! They're apathetic!" Whenever we hear about youth voter turnout in the media, the a-word inevitably comes up. But is it true? Is our generation apathetic? Does an entire generation actually not care about their quality of life? I don't think that's the case at all – in fact I think it's a lazy excuse made by those who don't want to look honestly at what's going on. Youth aren't voting today in large numbers because we are disengaged, disenfranchised, and, quite frankly, disempowered. For the most part, candidates in elections aren't speaking about youth issues or reaching out to young voters during campaigns – and when they do, it's often just a photo op and a superficial handshake. When we don't see the values, opinions, and issues that are important to us reflected by those on the ballot, it's easy to feel like we don't have a say in the process at all. But ignoring politics is foolish.

Democracy actually goes way beyond the vote. Democracy is playing a role in shaping your community, your society, and not leaving all of the decisions up to someone else. In today's political climate, it's easy to feel rejected and ignored – and unfortunately, that's exactly how some of those with power want us to feel. But this leaves those who do vote, those with the loudest voices, or those with the most money – those in power – to make all the decisions, regardless of how we might be affected.

From transit to affordable housing to tuition fees to youth unemployment, almost every aspect of our daily lives is impacted by decisions made by our elected representatives. While it might feel easier to ignore what happens in boardrooms and on Parliament Hill, these decisions are impacting our lives whether we like it or not. We cannot sit idly by while other people are shaping our future without us. The only way for democracy to work is for us to not check out.

There's no magical age when your opinions start to matter: they will only matter if you make them count. There are lots of ways to take part in democracy and be engaged in between elections. Whether it's by writing a letter to an MP, participating in a public meeting, or getting involved with a community organization or campaign, there are so many ways that we can come together as a society and work to build a country that works for all of us. That's what democracy is all about.

Youth deserve to have a say in the kind of world we live in – not just some day down the road, but right now. We deserve to be an equal player in the game, but we can only do that if we keep on playing.


Canadian democracy is not exactly in crisis, but our political institutions do need to be revitalized

Max Cameron

Max Cameron
Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions
Department of Political Science
University of British Columbia
@MaxwellACameron
@UBCDemocracy

Canadian democracy is not exactly in crisis, but our political institutions do need to be revitalized. Many people – particularly youth – no longer see politics as the critical arena for making change. Few of my students want to run for office, though many are public-spirited. They'd rather start a fair trade café, use social media to advance awareness of homelessness and environmental issues, or fundraise for research on cancer or MS. They have civic virtue, but politics is not their vocation.

Many good people are deterred from political participation by the disrepute into which politics has fallen. Scandals over expenses, toxic levels of partisanship, and the media emphasis on political theatrics over the prosaic grind of legislation give politicians a bad rap. Canadians reject the culture of entitlement, Question Period antics, bullying and infighting. That is why UBC's Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions created the first-ever Summer Institute for Future Legislators.

We began with the premise that universities can and should prepare people for public life. Not academic preparation but training and mentoring by practitioners who could help impart the skills and know-how to be effective as legislators. The Summer Institute was cross-partisan – we included practitioners and participants from all parties. The only requirement was an aspiration to participate in politics. We recruited over 50 men and women of all ages and backgrounds – from business, the media, students, First Nations, lawyers, civil servants – and put them through a kind of boot camp: four Saturday workshops followed by a model parliament in the Legislature in Victoria. Others participated for free online.

The boot camp not only inspired greater interest in politics as a career, it provided an exemplar of what democratic life could be. Rather than replicate parliamentary business as usual, our political wannabes raised the bar. They came away with a deeper appreciation of the demands of political life, yet were not deterred; it actually made them feel more confident that they knew what they were getting into. We saw how quickly group-think kicks in, as participants began to operate as teams, but also how effectively they were able to monitor and overcome the tendency to bully, grandstand or exclude. As a result, mock legislation was passed by broad majorities following impressive deliberations. A sense of accomplishment was palpable as we ended the sitting.

By preparing people for public life we can encourage more good people to enter politics, channel the civic virtue of some of our best citizens, and demonstrate that politics can be done differently. That is just one way to reconnect citizens with democracy.

Best, 

Max


2012 Archives



September 21, 2012

My first experience running a federal election

I was appointed Chief Electoral Officer of Canada in February 2007, so my first experience running a federal election was in the fall of 2008. It came as a surprise to me that special ballots would be delivered to ships navigating the St. Lawrence Seaway so that the workers on board could vote. In fact, Canadian citizens working in out-of-the-way locations all across Canada — even those who are temporarily out of the country — have the opportunity to cast their ballot during an election.

In the 2011 federal election, we had flooding in Manitoba to contend with. But thanks to the efforts of the local returning officer and their team, evacuees from the affected areas were still able to vote.

The efforts that were displayed locally by the returning officer for the affected areas that had sustained flooding in Manitoba during the 2011 federal election were commendable. It demonstrates that people are going out of their way to serve Canadians and providing them with the opportunity to vote. Evacuees from the Manitoba nations were able to cast their ballots despite these circumstances. Each election brings its own challenges and I think that these things are too often forgotten or ill known and should be reflected upon.



September 20, 2012

"Democracy 24/7" — How can we practise democracy in our everyday lives?

Democracy isn't something to be practised once every four years on election day. We need to practise it every day. I've always tried to convey, especially to my children, the fact that democracy is an ongoing part of our lives. To make an educated choice on election day, we have to keep ourselves informed.

It's important to be aware of ongoing issues and opinions. People need to get over the perceptions, biases and template messages out there and inform themselves about the issues. We need to examine their social and economic impact, and we need to pay attention to different sources of information to get different points of view. If you feel strongly about something, share your views with others by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, signing a petition or broadcasting your message on social media. Don't hesitate to speak up on issues that are important to you. If you agree or disagree with something that a political party or government is saying or doing, write to your member of Parliament. Never underestimate the impact you can have. Even though it doesn't always appear so, he or she will pay attention to what you say. But in the end, don't forget to vote — it remains the best way to ensure you will be listened to!



September 19, 2012

What I've learned since becoming Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

One thing I've learned since I've been in this position is that the electoral process has a long history. Change doesn't come quickly or easily; it takes time. One reason is that people have an attachment to the voting process, and political participants have a vested interest in it.

We have a very old system, and its long tradition speaks to its value. There is something to be said for the ritual of voting and marking your ballot in a public place. People are very attached to this tradition. The younger generation may not place as much value on it as older generations, but I believe it's important to respect the traditions of previous generations.

I think we may start to see people becoming more directly involved in democracy, both formally and informally, than has been the case up to now. And social media is going to play a significant part in that. With the emergence of new technology and social media, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are helping Canadians become more engaged. It remains to be seen how it will play out, but it's becoming easier all the time for citizens to connect with each other and with their elected representatives.

I think we tend to identify technology with young people, but my mother, who passed away two years ago at 90, was on her computer every day. I think more and more people are becoming familiar with technology and at ease with using it. Elections Canada is also embracing technology and investigating ways to incorporate it into the election process. At the same time, we recognize that some people cannot use or access technology easily, and we'll continue to offer alternative services to them.



September 18, 2012

How I got my children excited about democracy and voting

Getting my children engaged in the democratic process was always a priority for my wife and I. It was a value that I learned from my parents, so I wanted to pass it on to my own children. Whenever there was an election, we'd discuss it with our two sons, so they were able to get involved at a young age. We'd also take them with us to the polling station. Of course, after we cast our ballots, they'd always ask us who we voted for, and my wife and I would always respond with "it's a secret". That's just one of the ways that we got our children interested and excited about voting.

We also always encouraged them to be curious and to question what they read and heard. We urged them to get information from different sources, including from opinion leaders who might express views they disagreed with. We wanted our children to form their own opinions and recognize how other people's views differed from their own. We encouraged them to join debating societies at a young age — not only so they would learn how to speak in public, but also to learn how to articulate their thoughts and be better prepared to share them with others. Our children are now 23 and 24, and I'm proud to say that they're educated and engaged citizens.



September 17, 2012

Why getting involved in our democracy is important

It's incredibly important for youth to get involved and engaged in democracy. Youth engagement is a priority for us at Elections Canada. Young people are becoming involved in issues and causes that they feel passionate about, and they're taking action to make their voices heard. With so many youth using social media now, they can connect across the country and share ideas and views with their peers in a way that has never been possible before. It's empowering young people and giving them a platform from which they can make their voices heard.

One example of this that we can't ignore is the student movement in Quebec. I think that no matter which side of the debate you're on, you have to be impressed by the determination of the students and the skills displayed by their leaders. The students' solidarity should be applauded because they've continued to advance their views despite opposition, and people in authority have tried to split up the movement with no success. The impact these students have made goes beyond the immediate issue of tuition fees. Not only have they shown a passion and dedication to a cause that is important to them, they've also shown incredible communication skills. They've been able to present a unified voice and a strong and educated opinion on the issues they're currently facing.

It's been quite impressive to see how a generation can mobilize itself and reach out to other segments of society. It's important to have young leaders like this because they're able to motivate their peers to take action and they can encourage discussion in youth who may not want to get involved so publicly. The more young people learn about issues, the more involved they'll become in the democratic and voting processes.



September 14, 2012

The first time I ever voted

I was 19 years old when I voted for the first time. I think the year was 1972, and I'm not sure whether it was a provincial or federal election. It was an exciting but also a frightening time for everyone. A number of issues were capturing national attention. First of all, there was the October Crisis of 1970, when two high-ranking government officials were kidnapped by members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a far-left-wing Québécois nationalist group. For those who were living in Montreal at the time, the events had a real impact on the people. Prime Minister Trudeau had called in the military to support the police, so there were soldiers on every street corner making sure that citizens were protected.

Another heated topic in Quebec at the time was Bill C-63, which was controversial because it promoted the French language in the province. Many protests erupted over this issue, and I remember being involved in a student demonstration in Montreal. It seemed like there were more than 10,000 students there from all parts of Quebec, arguing for or against the bill. Being involved in the protest gave me the opportunity to speak to people about why they supported or opposed the bill. I found that many didn't even have a clue; they were there just because everyone else was there. What I took away from that experience was that if you want to participate in a meaningful way, you need to be informed.

I believe all of these experiences contributed to me becoming an engaged citizen. As the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, I don't vote in federal elections because I have to remain non-partisan. I can still vote at the provincial and municipal levels, but I look forward to the day when I can once again exercise my right to vote at the federal level.



Link to Elections Canada