Canada's Democracy Week Blogs

Marc Mayrand

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand presents Canada's Democracy Week 2015

This week marks the fifth edition of Canada's Democracy Week, taking place from September 14–21, 2015. As the federal election is scheduled for October 19, 2015, we chose as our theme: "Let's Get Canada Ready to Vote." Canada's Democracy Week 2015 is an excellent time for Canadians to learn about the mechanics of our democratic process and to start getting ready to vote.

Get ready to vote now!

As Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, I encourage all Canadians 18 years and older to visit the Elections Canada website to get ready to vote.

It's easy to be ready to vote:

  1. Be part of National Registration Day on September 15. Check your registration online.
  2. If you are registered, watch for your voter information card in the mail in late September. It will tell you where and when to vote and the accessible services available at your polling location. Or use our online Voter Information Service: all you need is your postal code.
  3. Make sure you have the right ID to vote. Consult our Voter ID List online.
  4. Choose one of the four options that you have to vote: on election day, at an advance poll, at an Elections Canada office or by mail.

Remember: The Elections Canada website, www.elections.ca, is THE place for all the information you need to be ready to cast your ballot.

Not 18 yet? You can still be involved in this year's federal election!

As both a parent and Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, I believe there is great potential for Canada's youth to play a more significant role in energizing our democracy and its institutions. Hands-on civic education programs encourage students to discuss politics with friends and family, build their knowledge and understanding of Canada's democratic institutions and awaken their sense of civic duty – all potential precursors to becoming an active voter.

That is why I'm encouraging educators to register their schools in the Student Vote program administered by CIVIX. Participating students research the issues, parties and candidates through classroom and school-wide activities. They then experience the voting process firsthand by casting ballots for the official election candidates running in their school's riding. When a school registers for the program, they receive a customized Student Vote campaign package including activity resources, campaign posters, an election operations manual and authentic voting materials (ballot boxes, voting screens, ballots and riding maps). The program is free and open to all schools. Teachers can register their school at www.studentvote.ca.

The National Democracy Challenge invites Canadian students aged 14 to 17 to submit a video, image or text related to this year's theme: Show Canadians how to get ready to vote! Prizes include bursaries to participate in civic education programs offered by Forum for Young Canadians and Encounters with Canada in Ottawa and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Students can submit their entry until November 9, 2015, at democracy-democratie.ca.

Let's get ready to vote!

October 19, 2015, is our federal election day. Take advantage of Canada's Democracy Week 2015 to get ready to vote now. Remember: check your registration, watch for your voter information card, prepare your ID and make a plan for voting day.

Marc Mayrand
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada


Canada's Democracy Week 2015 Guest Bloggers Series

Canada's Democracy Week 2015 is excited to have amazing people join our Guest Bloggers Series in the lead-up to and during Canada's Democracy Week 2015.

Starting August 17, bloggers from across Canada will tell us about how they are helping Canadians be informed about the election, specifically where, when and ways to vote, and how they are engaging Canadians under 18 to be involved in the 2015 federal election.


Are you vote ready?

Institute for Canadian Citizenship

In August, we brought you the results of a national survey of 2,300 new citizens. How and why do new citizens participate in the political process, and what does their level of engagement mean? How can we make the process better – for them, and for all of us? If you didn't have a chance to check out the full results, visit ballotsandbelonging.ca.

We brought you the voices and experiences of Canada's newest citizens. But, we also want to be of direct assistance. We've launched #ReadyToVote, a social media campaign to get new citizens ready to vote and out to the polls.

Visit votequiz.ca to see if you're ready to vote. If you're not, check out our resources at readytovote.ca to get vote ready.

Share the quiz with family and friends, and see you at the polls!


Bryan Buraga

Bryan Buraga director of the youth environmental group Kids for Climate Action

Bryan Buraga is a 16-year-old youth activist from Vancouver. He is the director of the youth environmental group Kids for Climate Action, an organization advocating for greater political action on climate change. In his free time, you can find him playing the ukulele, reading the newspaper, or daydreaming.

My name is Bryan Buraga. I am a second-generation Canadian. My parents came to Canada in the 90s to make a better life not just for themselves, but for their children as well. Over the years, I've grown up with a hybrid upbringing between Canadian and Filipino cultures; however, I can say that I am definitely proud to be a Canadian.

During my childhood, my father would tell me stories of his life back in the Philippines. He was born under the authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos, a dictator who ruled the Philippines in the 70s and 80s. He'd describe to me the fear he felt growing up under martial law. He told me about his sense of responsibility, how he felt he needed to take action to protect the ones he loved and cared for. After Marcos's main political opponent was assassinated, my father and a large mob of people stormed the dictator's residence – the Presidential Palace, guarded by the military – ousting the dictator without a single drop of blood being shed in the process. The army refused to fire on the people because they knew what they were fighting for: democracy and freedom. Most of the people who took action were young people. The lesson my father wanted me to learn was that democracy is important, and that by voting, we honour the sacrifices of others who have fought for the rights we have today.

In the last federal election in 2011, only 39% of eligible youth voted. What does that mean? That means almost two thirds of young people did not have a say in who represents them. My organization, Kids for Climate Action, plans to get the vote out when we begin our federal election campaign in Vancouver. Our strategy is three-fold. First, we will go door to door in a local riding, visit post-secondary institutions, and call people in our database to get them to pledge to vote in this election. Second, we will hold an all-candidates' debate in that riding to hear all the different perspectives and to allow voters to make informed decisions. Finally, when election day comes, we will contact all our vote pledgers to make sure that they actually go out to vote.

A great woman once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Will you be part of the group that changes the world? Your vote will determine that.


Antoine Bilodeau

Know where, when and the ways to vote. But have opinions as well!

Antoine Bilodeau

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Concordia University

Researcher, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship

Knowing where, when and the ways to vote is essential for exercising your civic duty. But they are not the only things you need. Opinions count as well. One of the findings of a recent study conducted for Elections Canada by me and my colleague Luc Turgeon (University of Ottawa) shows that 18- to 24-year-olds have more difficulty than other Canadians in expressing their opinions on the quality of democracy in Canada, and even about the integrity of Elections Canada!

For example, when we polled Canadians on what they think of the state of Canadian democracy, the proportion of respondents who had an opinion on all five questions asked was 90% among those over 35; 78% among those 25 to 34; and only 69% among those 18 to 24. In comparison, when discussing the major social issues that Canada faces, young Canadians expressed their opinions as readily as their elders (see Figure 1).

Our study also showed that respondents who had opinions on the state of Canadian democracy were more inclined to vote than those who did not. While 92% of the respondents who expressed an opinion on the five questions about the state of Canadian democracy were regular voters, only 69% of those who expressed no opinion on those questions voted regularly, even when interest in politics was taken into consideration. Such a correlation was not observed for opinions on major social issues (see Figure 2). While a positive opinion about the state of our democracy can generate enthusiasm and encourage voting to demonstrate support for the system, and a negative opinion can generate a sense of urgency to change things, a lack of opinion is associated with apathy.

Although knowing where, when and the ways to vote are necessary to exercise your civic duty, opinions on the state of democracy also have a role to play. Therefore, apathy is more than a behaviour; it is a state of mind, a lack of opinion as to how Canadian democracy works. It now remains to be seen whether young people have a lower level of opinion because they lack experience with the Canadian political system or because they are profoundly disengaged from it.

Figure 1. Canadians' levels of opinion
  Aged 18-24 Aged 25-34 Aged 35 and older
How Canadian democracy works 69 78 90
Social issues 69 72 77

A total of 5 questions were asked for each of the two categories.
Source: Project on provincial diversity
% expressing an opinion for all questions on…



Figure 2. Levels of opinion and voting regularity
  Opinions on how Canadian democracy works Opinions on social issues
0 69 90
1 76 90
2 81 91
3 86 91
4 89 91
5 92 92

% likelihood of being a regular voter (who votes frequently)


Ben Angus

Ben Angus - Street Team Volunteer, Apathy is Boring

Ben is a second-year political science student at the University of Alberta. He's a member of the university's student council and has a fondness for all levels of politics. In his spare time, he enjoys catching up on the news, barista-ing and singing in the rain.

The way I've decided to help Canadians be informed about the election is by volunteering with Apathy is Boring's Street Team program in Edmonton.

Leading a Street Team in my city throughout the month of April allowed me to really connect with young people who want to be involved with politics, but don't know how.

With the recent provincial elections in Alberta having come to an end, Albertan youth are now excited to learn, live and breathe politics on all levels – not just at the provincial level.

Seeing this has inspired me as well. Sometimes as a young person, it doesn't feel as though I have a strong voice, but after connecting with so many other people who had shared interests and desires for political change, it's motivated me to stay active in all levels of politics.

I've realized that the way to get my peers informed about the election is having face to face conversations with them about where, when and how they can vote. A lot of the time, my friends don't vote because they don't have the information they need. Working on an Apathy is Boring Street Team taught me just how important it is to give people easy access to the information they need in order to take part in our democracy.


Ilona Dougherty

Youth Advocate, Public Policy Innovator and President & Co-founder of Apathy is Boring

Ilona is a social and public policy innovator, with her diverse experiences, ranging from being a Canadian delegate at a United Nations conference at 17 years old to working with youth in a small community above the Arctic Circle. In January 2004, Ilona co-founded Apathy is Boring, a Canadian non-partisan charitable organization that uses art and technology to educate youth about democracy and encourage them to vote. Ilona is a regular commentator on CTV News Channel and Ipolitics.ca and a published author. She speaks to international audiences about redefining intergenerational relationships, changing the way we think about young people and encouraging active citizenship.

Ilona Dougherty video

Transcript of video


Terry Audla

Terry Audla, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Inuit have only had the right to vote in federal elections since 1954. Our elders fought hard for our opportunity to vote. Show your respect by exercising your right – and make sure to vote on Election Day or in Advanced Polls!

Inuit are the youngest population in Canada; our average age is 23. For our current and future generations, it is important that Inuit continue to actively participate in the democratic process in Canada.

Inuit have a voice that our elders' generation fought for us to have. We vote for ourselves, we vote for those who gave us this right and we vote for those youth who cannot yet vote.

If you are over 18 and a Canadian citizen, you can use your vote to represent yourself and to represent our young Inuit – our future.


Let's Get Canada Ready to Vote

Let's Get Canada Ready to Vote

Alyssa lives in Toronto but hails from Newfoundland and Labrador. She is a 21-year-old Public Relations student at Humber College, the chair of the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health, a communications and policy intern with The Sandbox Project, a member of the ACCESS Youth Mental Health Council, and has been an active member with Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada for as long as she can remember. She sees the importance of encouraging young people to be more involved in politics and social change, and believes that when youth feel involved and heard, they will show up to the polls.

I simply can't wait for the upcoming election to pass, not because I'm already tired of seeing classless ads attacking party after party, or because I'm already beyond ready to see how the polls are going to turn up, but because I can't wait to see the aftermath statistics of how many Canadians, specifically young Canadians, turned out to vote. I have a lot of faith that we'll see a rise in the coming year and I won't be surprised since I've seen more effort than ever before to get youth educated and ready to cast their vote. I for one have put in much more effort than ever before and I'm really not the only one.

I've been lucky to be a part of a Facebook group with some of the staff, youth, and fellow alumni of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. We've been sharing information, opinions, and interesting articles about the coming elections and how we can get more youth involved and informed – it's really been inspiring to get to be constantly in contact with others passionate about politics in Canada. I've used this platform as a starting point to find resources and information that I then pass along to other youth groups I'm part of and specifically a youth organization that I chair. I always post open discussion so that members can let me know what they're thinking and we can get the conversation going. I've learnt that the best way to get people interested is to directly involve them. By simply sharing and asking opinions, I'm allowing for a group of people to feel connected and heard, two things that are often missing when young people think about politics. I've really found this method to be beneficial and successful in getting the youth I'm connected with daily excited and interested in topics normally I've seen them shy from.

Outside of trying to give youth a space to have a voice about politics, I try to attend and promote as many political events as I can. By posting about forums, conferences, and visiting government spaces on my personal social media platforms I hope that I'm encouraging others to get involved and to see that these things are often really fun, educational, and allow you to have your voice really heard. My goal is that others will remove the stigma of boring, bland and pointless when it comes to many of these events and will go out and get involved for themselves.

I think that the best way to get young Canadians out to the polls is to allow them to feel involved and to generate excitement in the process, once you feel a connection and obligation to something it's hard not to follow through and I'm hopeful that the efforts of myself and so many others (many who've done far more) to do just that will show though when we see the voter turnout results after the coming election.


ABC Life Literacy

ABC Life Literacy Canada

ABC Life Literacy Canada is a non-profit organization that inspires Canadians to increase their literacy skills. We connect and mobilize business, unions, government, communities and individuals to support lifelong learning and achieve our goals through leadership in programs, communications and partnerships. For the latest news and information on adult literacy please visit: www.abclifeliteracy.ca or follow us on Twitter @abclifeliteracy.

We envision a Canada where everyone has the skills they need to live a fully engaged life. We want every Canadian to vote, and every person to let the government know their beliefs, needs and wants. That's why ABC has launched a new civic literacy project to create resources to help adult learners engage in civic literacy in advance of the October 2015 federal election.

Civic literacy means having the knowledge and skills you need to participate in making change in your community. In Canada, this includes: voting, knowing how the government works, and understanding the rights and responsibilities of citizens and elected members of government. If you have children or other family members who are not yet eligible to vote, take them with you on voting day so they can see our electoral process in action! It's a great opportunity for you and your community to understand the importance of voting.

In partnership with Elections Canada, ABC has created A Guide to Voting: a Literacy Practitioner Workbook for Voting in the 2015 Federal Election. The purpose of this resource is to increase accessibility and break down barriers that may prevent adult Canadians with low literacy skills from being able to vote. ABC is arming literacy practitioners with the knowledge and resources needed to introduce civic literacy into the classroom, so that all Canadians can get ready to vote.

This project will result in more adult Canadians with low literacy skills being able to participate in the democratic process. By providing literacy practitioners with tools to help their clientele access Elections Canada resources—and through communications outreach—we will empower adult learners to participate in the upcoming federal election. When you have strong civic literacy skills, you know how to make your voice heard by all levels of government—before, during and after an election.


Kory Earle

Democracy Is About Being Engaged

Kory Earle is a young disability rights advocate who lives in Lanark County, Ontario. He became active in the People First movement in 2006, and by 2009, Kory was appointed as the Youth Representative, and in 2014 he was elected President of People First of Canada. Kory's mission is to ensure that all people with disabilities are treated equally, that their rights are respected, and that they are seen as everyday people.

As long as I can remember, I have always been interested in politics. For a long time, I have been aware that some have a lot more power than others, and some voices count a lot more than others. It may have been because of my disability and the different treatment I got at many points in my life. I was affected by policies and decisions made about me from a young age, before I even understood what they were. In many ways, I didn't have a voice or a choice in what happened to me.

As I got older, I became more curious about the way things are run and the way things get done. I was interested in the politics of my high school and my community. I became fascinated with the way my country was run. I became a fan of politics and felt that democracy was a process where all voices count, all voices have power, and all voices are heard. I wanted to be heard. And I have been.

I have had first-hand experience with how democracy works. In my work for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, there was a struggle between a union's right to strike and picket and the rights of individuals to live in peace in their own homes. There were supporters on both sides and the local media reported on it regularly. It became a larger issue that eventually found its way to the legislature and was resolved there, in favour of the individuals, not the union. This process furthered my belief in democracy and how action can make change and how important it is to be involved and be heard.

I came to understand that democracy is about more than elections and voting. It is about being engaged in your community and how it is being run. It is about taking part in the process; it is about keeping aware of what is happening at ground level where we all live. It is about issues and policies; it is about talking to people and finding out what is working, what is not working, what is needed now, or in the future. It's about what will benefit our communities, our people, and our society.

Democracy was one of the things that drew me to the People First movement. People with intellectual disabilities ran the movement – through their voice, their choice, and their vote. The leaders that came before me worked hard to achieve autonomy for our movement and our organization. As the current President, I am committed to engaging our members at all levels. I am committed to advancing the agenda of inclusion in Canada. I encourage and support people to use their voice and take part in the democracy of our movement, to be involved in their communities, and to help shape our country into the inclusive Canada we know it can be.


Getting Young Canadians Ready for the Federal Election with Student Vote

The federal election is scheduled for October 19 and, fittingly, the theme of this year's Canada's Democracy Week is "Let's Get Canada Ready to Vote!" As the Student Vote program shows, preparing young Canadians for the voting process can, and should, start at an early age.

Since 2003, the Student Vote program has been giving students under the voting age the opportunity to experience the voting process and have a voice in the election.

Student Vote is a parallel election program offered to elementary and high schools during official federal, provincial and municipal elections. Participating students learn about government and the electoral process, research the party platforms and local candidates, and participate in an authentic vote for the official candidates in their school's riding.

Registered schools receive all the material necessary to run the program, including educational resources, an election manual, posters, voting screens, ballot boxes and ballots.

This fall will be the fifth Student Vote project organized at the federal level. In the last federal election, 563,000 students across Canada cast a Student Vote ballot, and an estimated 700,000 will do so this fall.

Why is it important to engage students in the electoral process?

Voter turnout in Canada has been declining for decades and is driven especially by low voter turnout among youth. In the 2011 federal election, only 39 percent of voters aged 18–24 voted, compared to 70 percent of voters aged 55 and over.

Not only is turnout among young Canadians at historic lows, but studies have shown that habits of voting and non-voting persist over time, which is why it is all the more important for young Canadians to begin voting when they are first eligible.

The goal of Student Vote is to create life-long voters who are ready, willing and able to participate in their democracy.

Schools can sign up now at www.studentvote.ca or by calling our team toll-free at 1-866-488-8775.

Student Vote is the flagship program of CIVIX, Canada's leading civic education charity. Visit civix.ca to learn more.


Joel Westheimer

Teaching for democracy: The role of schools this election year

By Joel Westheimer, professor and university research chair in democracy and education at the University of Ottawa and author of What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good (Teacher's College Press, 2015).

As the federal election nears, it is worthwhile considering the roles schools can play in encouraging civic engagement and voter turnout. In the 2011 federal election, 61% of eligible Canadians voted. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, the turnout was less than 40%. These statistics, among others, have caused civic and government leaders to explore ways to increase voter turnout, especially among younger voters.

In my recent book, What Kind of Citizen?, I make the point that increasing youth voter turnout is not a sufficient goal. A spike in polling must be just one benefit of a much larger project: the engagement of youth in the political and social life of our democracy, and building an understanding about the link between what happens on Parliament Hill and what happens in our communities and families. As an educator, my interest is in how schools can help make this possible.

Many studies have documented youth disengagement from formal politics. When my research team conducted interviews with high school students in Ottawa, it was evident they felt alienated, describing the political process as "kind of like a soap opera." Many students used the word "politician" as if it were a bad word.

But that does not mean Canada's youth are not engaged citizens. Many students are active in their communities, engaged in environmental issues, involved in online activism, and speak up about school rules and educational policies. Schools and other institutions with educational missions can build on these forms of engagement to strengthen Canadian democracy. Before I come back to that goal, let me dispel a few myths about schools and voting.

More than knowledge

Some educators believe we can prepare future voters by teaching students about the mechanics of government, the workings of the party system, and the logistics around voting. But in order for students to want to vote in the first place, they must have a stake in the social and political life that the electoral system informs. They need to feel they have a voice that extends beyond the voting booth.

Decades of research on education for a strong democracy have revealed that encouraging students to be active democratic citizens requires equipping them with a broad set of knowledge, competencies, behaviours and attitudes. And, as with the democratic process itself, teaching democracy can be messy. We need to embrace this mess!

More than character

At the core of many democratic education efforts is character education, where schools emphasize virtues such as generosity, honesty, compassion, cooperation and respect.

Of course, we all want our children to have these values. But what is specifically democratic about the kinds of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours taught in character education? Government leaders in a totalitarian regime would be as delighted as those in a democracy if their young citizens learned the lessons put forward by many of these programs: don't do drugs, show up to work on time, give blood, help others during a flood, and recycle. These are all desirable traits, to be sure, but none of them have much to do with democracy.

Unfortunately, the hidden curriculum of too many character education programs is how to be nice and please authority, not how to develop convictions and stand up for them. It is the latter set of goals that promote engagement with the kinds of ideas necessary for a democratic society to flourish. But the vision promoted by many school initiatives is one of citizenship without politics or collective action—a commitment to individual service, but not to democracy. And if we want our students invested in Canada's political process, they must be invested in democracy.

Teach controversies by exposing students to varying perspectives on important issues

Rather than focus only on knowledge or character, schools would do well to focus on the heart of what makes political engagement, well, engaging! The most interesting aspects of civic and political life are the varying perspectives that compete for public support. Controversies are, perhaps, one of the finest educational tools at our disposal for engaging young learners. If we want students to become future voters, they must have opinions about the kinds of issues at stake in the elections. Schools often teach past controversies but shy away from contemporary ones.

In classrooms, students are frequently exposed to historical controversies such as slavery, Nazism, or laws denying voting rights to Blacks or to women—past controversies that are already settled in the minds of all but a small fringe minority of citizens. But those same students are too often shielded from matters that require thoughtful engagement with today's competing ideas even though that kind of engagement is exactly what democratic participation requires.

Many schools shy away from controversy, as if "politics" had no place in the classroom. But democracy is precisely about embracing that kind of controversy so that citizens can engage in dialogue and work together toward understanding and enacting the most sensible policy decisions possible. In politics as well as spelling, "politics" is not a four-letter word.

It is not enough to ask students to buy into a political system from which they feel alienated. Instead, we should be conveying to students that what they think and do matters. We know from research that engaging students with materials that have resonance in social and political life results in deeper and fuller understanding.

The most effective programs I've seen have students working to solve problems in their communities in two ways: 1) by doing meaningful and engaging community work to improve local, national or global communities, and 2) by using the political system to further those causes. That way, students' sincere desire to make their communities better can be connected to the kinds of policy decisions made by the politicians they will elect in the future.

Teaching for democracy

Of course, these programs require that teachers have the freedom and flexibility to design curriculum that takes advantage of student interests and local contexts. I have spent time with countless educators who, in fact, have filled me with awe and a sense of what is possible in our schools. There are myriad ways to teach the skills of democratic thinking and engagement. Schools do not need to avoid controversy and politics, and they can teach students to participate in civic and community life in creative and provocative ways. What we need are strong public commitments to support the kinds of schools that strengthen democratic life and that educate our children for the common good.


Ballots & Belonging

Ballots & Belonging, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship's second national study, is an opportunity to see Canadian democracy through the fresh eyes of Canada's newest citizens. Over 2,300 new citizens participated in an online survey and cross-country focus groups. We asked the basic questions: How and why do new citizens participate in the political process, and what does their level of engagement mean? How can we make the process better – for them, and for all of us? Here's a sneak peak at what we learned.

New citizens are excited to cast that ballot

Voting day is significant for many new citizens. Many told us they shed tears when they came out of the voting booth. For some, it was the first time they have ever been able to participate in the democratic process. For many, it was the chance to give back to the country they feel has given them and their families so much opportunity. It empowered them, made them feel like an active citizen, and made them feel included. It put the oath they just took into action, solidifying their status as a Canadian citizen.

"I felt accepted. I felt part of the Canadian fabric that day" (Focus group participant, Mississauga)

New citizens who had already voted in an election in Canada told us that they voted because they wanted to have their voices heard and because they believed that voting was an important act of citizenship.

New Citizens on Political Participation
Text description of "Why new citizens voted?"

But there are barriers that keep some from the polls

Some of the barriers that separate us of polls
Text description of "Some of the barriers that separate us of polls"

The good news is that we can forget cynicism and apathy as prime barriers for this group of Canadians. What we have are structural barriers that could be relatively easy to fix, primarily access to clear information. What would encourage non-voters to get to the ballot box? Here are the top three suggestions:

  • More information about candidates, parties and issues
  • Voting places that are more convenient
  • More information on where and when to vote

What other ways do new citizens get involved in Canadian democracy?

Casting a ballot is far from the only way these citizens wish to express commitment. Charity, volunteerism, even signing petitions, matter nearly as much to their sense of themselves as active members of society.

Other ways of engaging new citizens to Canadian democracy
Text description of "Other ways of engaging new citizens to Canadian democracy"

In the focus groups, we heard that while voting was an important way to express an opinion, civic engagement was personally more fulfilling. Running for office, volunteering on political campaigns, and becoming a member of a political party were not considered effective ways to create change.

This is only a slice of what we learned. To learn more about the report and the full results, visit ballotsandbelonging.ca. 

The Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) is a national, non-profit charity that helps accelerate new citizens' integration into Canadian life through original programs, collaborations research, and unique volunteer opportunities. This is the second ICC Insights report. To learn more, visit icc.ca.


Carolyn Hebert

Carolyn Hebert,
Carolyn is a PhD student in Education with a concentration in Studies in Teaching and Learning at the University of Ottawa and has an MA in Dance from York University. She is also a dance teacher and choreographer and has worked as an FSWEP student at Elections Canada for over four years.

Mrs. Nicholl asked us all to put our heads down and to cover our eyes with our hands. She said that when we heard the name of the book we liked, we should stretch one hand up as high as we could with our eyes closed tight. That way, she explained, everyone's vote could be kept a secret.

Although I was only five years old, I was exercising my democratic right to vote in choosing which book we were going to read for quiet time that day. Through this seemingly insignificant task, Mrs. Nicholl taught us that we were entitled to an opinion and that our opinions mattered. As I grew older, I learned how to vote with a secret ballot for my grade six class representative, my grade eight valedictorian and my high school student council prime ministers. Before I was even 18, I had already practised my democratic duty by voting in countless elections and had even run in a few myself.

Getting ready to vote is about so much more than simply understanding the where, when and ways of voting in the upcoming federal election. You do not have to be of eligible voting age to practise, and your vote does not always elect a federal government. Sometimes, voting is about which game you're going to play at recess, or choosing the best air-band performance. Sometimes, it's about who you want to represent your graduating class. Preparing pre-electors –– our students and children –– to vote means helping them to understand the importance of democratic participation and civic engagement. It's about igniting in them a passion for discussion and debate so that they seek to make their voices heard.

As an educator, when the topic of politics comes up I often encounter many a moan and groan. But politics do not have to be boring, and they do not have to feel so far removed from students' lives. In my dance classes, kids are always asking me how the election affects them and why they should care. I try to link what I know my students care about –– dance and the arts –– to discussions about politics and governance. Cultivating an environment where adolescents are encouraged to express themselves, to get involved in their communities and to voice their opinions develops active, involved citizens. When their time to vote in governmental elections comes, they will exercise their rights because they understand the value of their voice, their vote. Getting Canadians ready to vote is about instilling in them a sense of agency, and practice exercising this agency can begin as young as in kindergarten.


Harriet Smith, from Okotoks, Alberta, won first place in the Writing category of the National Democracy Challenge 2014. Ms. Smith explained that Canada could serve as an example to other countries by showing them that people don't need a law to force them to vote: all they have to do is care about what's happening in their country.

I feel that democracy in Canada is sometimes overlooked and that everyone should band together to appreciate this right. As minors, it is often hard for us to feel like we are making a difference, as we cannot vote, but what we don't realize is that we have the power to impact our government; we just have to be creative.

Get informed, discuss, share!

For example, a very simple thing to do is discuss the political parties with your parents and express your opinions on the issues. Share with your parents whom you would vote for and explain why you would choose that party. If your parents disagree with you then ask them why and try to understand their point of view on the topic. This will allow you to become familiar with all of the political parties. Then, when you are at the age to vote, you will be able to form a supported opinion based on the information that you have gathered. Also, it may encourage your parents to vote and have their say in who represents their riding. By showing them how interested you are in the election, it may spur them to be more involved.

Another way to get ready for the election is to ask your teacher if you can discuss the election in class. By getting your teacher to talk about the election, many of your classmates will go and inform their friends and family about it. Thus your classmates may vote in the future and you're encouraging minors to understand how important this right is to Canada.

However, the most important thing to do is research and gain knowledge on the topic, so that you can inform others about the election. Find out where your parents should vote and go with them to the polls. Gather information about all of the platforms and what all of the leaders represent. As long as you know how the voting process works, you can inform others and ensure that the people going to the polls know what they're doing.

In conclusion, there are many ways to get involved with democracy when you're a minor and a great way to get involved is to take part in the National Democracy Challenge like I did last year. It's a fun activity and if you're creative the possibilities are endless. So, go and get involved in democracy, and remember, you're never too young to make a difference.


The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author.
Elections Canada encourages the sharing of its information on when, where and ways to register and vote.

Link to Elections Canada