Table of Contents
I. Executive summary
To better inform young Canadians aged 18–24 about registering and voting in the upcoming 2015 federal election, Elections Canada hosted a series of civic engagement workshops across the country. The workshops, which were held in 10 cities from April to October 2014, provided an unprecedented opportunity to build a community of youth engagement organizations across Canada dedicated to informing and encouraging youth to vote. Representatives from youth-serving organizations and youth leaders learned more about the latest research on voting and civic engagement and were provided with tools and information to mobilize young voters and prepare them to exercise their right to vote. Several national organizations were also invited to present their youth-engagement programs at the workshops. Participant feedback was highly positive; the workshops were a resounding success based on the quality of the discussions that took place and the range of experiences that were shared.
This report begins with an overview of the format of the workshops and the key themes that were discussed during the presentations. It then groups together the barriers to participation that participants identified and matches them with actions that can be undertaken to overcome these barriers by youth-serving organizations, electoral agencies, politicians, candidates, educators and young leaders. The report offers a five-point program of action based on the commitments that were made by participants to help prepare youth to vote in the next federal election. The program is based on the following areas of action:
- Preparing your organization
- Preparing youth
- Disseminating information on registering and voting
- Working together
The report ends by identifying what's needed to meet these commitments, as well as Elections Canada's plans to continue building the youth-engagement community in the months ahead. Among other things, Elections Canada will be launching a series of webinars to showcase new research on youth engagement, including a webinar on registering and voting. The webinars will also provide an opportunity for organizations to provide updates on their activities.
This report complements the individual workshop reports that are available on the Events webpage of the Inspire Democracy website.
Elections Canada is mandated to inform electors about the exercise of their democratic rights through electoral participation, specifically around registration and voting. Voter turnout in Canada has dropped significantly in recent decades, driven in large part by the disengagement of young voters, who face significant motivational barriers that prevent them from going to the polls.
In April 2014, Elections Canada launched Inspire Democracy, an initiative that includes a new website with research and tools to encourage youth civic engagement in Canada, a quarterly newsletter and a series of workshops across the country. The initiative focuses in particular upon building a community of youth-serving organizations knowledgeable about the issue of declining youth voter turnout and committed to helping Elections Canada provide voter information to young people. Research shows that young leaders and those who have influence with youth play a critical role in raising awareness and helping overcome barriers to voting. By providing these organizations with research and tools on youth voter turnout, they will be more effective at responding to the informational needs of Canadian youth when it comes to voting.
The first Inspire Democracy workshop took place in Halifax at the end of April 2014. Subsequent workshops were held in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Québec, Montréal, Moncton and Calgary (see Appendix A for a list of cities, dates, and links to individual workshop reports).
The workshops had three main objectives:
- To help youth-serving organizations understand the issue and causes of declining youth voter participation by showing how it is linked to the broader issue of youth civic engagement.
- To equip youth-serving organizations with research and tools to address youth civic and voter engagement.
- To invite youth-serving organizations to take action over the coming year to ensure youth are prepared to vote in the 2015 general election, including by disseminating Elections Canada voter information.
Over 130 organizations participated in the workshops, representing national, regional and local youth-serving organizations, student associations, election agencies, Aboriginal groups, NGOs/non-profits and others (see Appendix B for a full list of organizations). A wide range of organizations were invited to participate in the workshops based on their actual or potential interest in youth civic engagement. The workshops were intended to help develop a network of organizations dedicated to informing and encouraging youth to vote in the next election.
At each of the workshops, Elections Canada was joined by two of the following national organizations invited to share their experiences on successful civic-engagement programming: Apathy is Boring, CIVIX, Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM) and Samara. Regional and local organizations also presented at the Halifax, Québec and Montréal workshops (see individual reports for more details).
Participants were asked to complete a survey at the end of each workshop to help evaluate whether it had met its objectives. Participant feedback was universally positive, and indicated that participants appreciated the opportunity to network with peers and learn about the engagement programs of groups doing similar work. Elections Canada is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Inspire Democracy initiative; the evaluation will be made publicly available.
lll. Format of the workshops
The workshops were designed to be interactive, dynamic and based on peer-to-peer exchanges. Each took place over a period of a day and a half. The basic format for the workshops included the following sessions:
- Understanding Youth Engagement – Part 1. This session was intended to provide a common frame of reference to engagement and allow participants to identify the key issues and barriers to youth civic engagement and ultimately the decline in youth voter turnout. The session included group discussion on defining civic engagement and identifying barriers.
- Understanding Youth Engagement – Part 2. In this follow-up session, an Elections Canada representative delivered a presentation on what the research says about youth voter turnout and the barriers to participation.
- Youth Engagement: What Works! – Parts 1–2. Two national organizations shared their experiences on what kinds of programs and activities can successfully engage youth.
- Youth Engagement: What Works! – Part 3. Participants discussed their own experiences and best practices in youth engagement.
- Mobilizing Youth to Action. Participants identified actions that their organization and others in the community could undertake to ensure youth were ready to vote in the 2015 general election.
For the two workshops in Québec, a slightly different model was used based on the following sessions:
- Citizen Engagement – General Overview. The Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM) provided an overview of the meaning of civic engagement.
- Group Activity and Discussion – Identify the Obstacles. Participants identified the obstacles to youth participation.
- Understanding Youth Engagement. Presentation by Elections Canada.
- Group Activity and Discussion: Identify the Experiences and Knowledge.
The Civic Rite of Passage: A Way to Overcome Obstacles to Youth Citizen and Electoral Engagement? INM presented one of its programs as an example of an initiative that can address barriers to participation.
- Effective Methods for Increasing Youth Electoral Engagement. Five Quebec-based organizations discussed methods for engaging youth.
- Group Activity: Participants' Viewpoints on Effective Methods. Participants shared their own experiences.
- Encourage Youth to Act! Actions and Strategies for Future Elections. Participants committed to action.
The following summarizes key points that were raised by presenters from Elections Canada and the national organizations that were involved in the workshop series.
Apathy is Boring – Apathy is Boring's approach to engaging youth
(Ilona Dougherty and Youri Cormier)
- Apathy is Boring shared its approach to engaging youth, emphasizing the importance of using humour, not being patronizing and involving people that appeal to youth.
- Many different tactics to reach youth are required – including in-person and online. "Street Teams," youth reaching out to youth, are particularly effective.
- Apathy is Boring spoke of the importance of using non-partisan messages to mobilize youth and how to plan neutral events by inviting all parties and candidates and consulting them on policy issues to be discussed beforehand. Participants were guided through an activity to distinguish between partisan and non-partisan messages.
CIVIX – Programs that work (Taylor Gunn)
- Taylor Gunn discussed the activities and successes of various CIVIX programs, including Student Vote, Rep Day and the Student Budget Consultation. He emphasized that the results of Student Vote often mirror the results of the actual general election. Importantly, youth do not have a tendency to vote for any particular party or ideology.
- Taylor concluded his sessions with a group discussion on the importance of how both knowledge (e.g. knowing where, when and how to vote) and experiences (e.g. meeting a candidate) are important to encourage voting. By prioritizing knowledge and experience, youth-serving organizations can help young people develop voting plans.
Elections Canada – What the research says about civic engagement
(Miriam Lapp and Neil Burron)
- Elections Canada presented research showing that youth electoral participation has declined over time, a phenomenon that began in the 1970s and is driving down overall turnout rates in Canada. Youth face both access and motivational barriers to participation, and these barriers vary by youth sub-group.
- Organizations can take action to help youth overcome these barriers, but given their complexity, multiple players need to be involved.
- Elections Canada provided information on registering and voting, as well as its many different outreach programs.
Institut du Nouveau Monde – Overcoming obstacles to youth engagement
(Miriam Fahmy and Geneviève Baril)
- INM presented on the various civic engagement programs it offers and the lessons it has learned.
- As a result of its engagement work, INM has developed a proposal to consider voting as a "civic rite of passage." This proposal, which is intended to spark discussion and debate, comprises five complementary reforms:
- Nationwide implementation of a grade nine civics course
- Lower the voting age to 16 years
- Voluntary civic service for 16–24-year-olds
- Compulsory voting, including the ability to cast a blank ballot
- Semi-proportional voting system
Samara – Democracy Talks presentation and experiential activity (John Beebe)
- John Beebe led participants through an experiential activity based on Samara's "Democracy Talks." As individuals and in groups, participants identified what they felt were the four most important attributes of democracy.
- After in-depth discussions, groups were asked to reach consensus and create "democracy bracelets" that represented the attributes they felt to be most important using different colours.
- John explained the other components of Democracy Talks and indicated how youth-serving groups can use the tool to host their own discussions.
V. Barriers to participation and actions that work
Participants at the workshops identified different types of barriers that prevent youth from being engaged. They also shared their experiences to uncover actions that can help overcome these barriers by fostering youth engagement. What emerged from this process was an extensive inventory of barriers and actions that can inspire the activities of youth-serving organizations, electoral agencies, politicians, candidates, educators and young leaders. The table below summarizes the barriers and actions that were identified.
||Barriers to participation
||Actions that work
|Educational and resource barriers
- Insufficient knowledge about voting, political parties and issues.
- Feeling that youth are insufficiently "literate" in civic issues to participate.
- Lack of resources to participate, including opportunities, time and skills.
- Engagement is not seen as a priority. Lower-income youth must focus on making a living instead. Youth are busier than in past and often must balance work and school.
- Civic education is devalued in favour of other subjects.
|Educational and resource barriers
- Promote experiential learning through mock elections, youth councils, model parliaments, candidate debates and other activities.
- Host mentorship programs with politicians and candidates.
- Conduct civic education informally through activities at community centres.
- Ensure civic education resources and election-related information are easily accessible.
- Promote civic education both in and out of the classroom.
|Lack of interest and relevance
- Feeling that participation is boring or unimportant.
- Being apathetic is sometimes seen as cool.
- Young people can be afraid of being ridiculed or bullied for expressing their views.
- Lack of interest. Too many distractions and too much competing information to sustain interest in politics.
- Civics is not always taught in a way that is interesting. It can be difficult for youth to see how politics affects their lives.
- Civic engagement is not engrained in youth culture.
- Politicians don't always speak to youth in accessible language.
- Use popular cultural issues as a way of framing more important and meaningful discussions linked to civic engagement.
- Draw upon images and art that are culturally relevant.
- Have genuine conversations in simple language.
- Meet youth "where they are at," listening to their experiences and linking these to civic engagement.
- Use employment opportunities to raise interest.
- Make civic engagement fun through festivals.
- Make civic participation a social experience – bring friends, involve the entire community.
|Feelings of intimidation and lack of confidence
- The process of engagement can be intimidating. Youth can feel overwhelmed, especially if they have few opportunities to practice civic engagement.
- Youth can lack confidence in their political voice and feel intimidated by political action. They may feel a sense of inferiority, lack of efficacy or general sense that their voice doesn't matter.
- Those who are on the "inside" do not always create welcome spaces for youth involvement and political engagement can be perceived as elitist.
- Host events with low barriers to entry (i.e. that are not just for those who already have high-levels of understanding). Let youth decide on the topics.
- Host events at community centres and other places where youth regularly congregate.
- Use plain language and make everyone feel welcome.
- Serve food at events! Provide awards. Celebrate youth participation.
|Perception that there is no "space" to engage
- Youth can feel excluded. The value of their voice is not always appreciated and youth are sometimes engaged in tokenistic ways that are not meaningful. This can be disempowering.
- Organizations are not always structured to welcome youth. They do not always make efforts to recruit them and reflect their interests.
- There are few spaces or supports for youth to have open political discussions.
- Youth engagement projects are not always supported.
- Involve youth in meaningful ways. Avoid tokenism. Create spaces that are youth-friendly and where it is ok to ask questions and make mistakes. Encourage risk taking.
- Empower youth and make sure decisions and solutions come from them.
- Make your organization and activities youth-friendly (e.g. have youth on your board of directors).
- Create comfortable environments and non-intimidating spaces.
- Create spaces for role modelling, peer-to-peer engagement and ongoing learning.
|Negativity and frustration
- Issues that resonate with youth are not always addressed by politicians.
- Negativity surrounding politics in the media. Focus is on political infighting rather than important issues.
- Feeling that candidates and politicians do not always reflect the diversity of society.
- Feeling that youth voices are not heard or taken seriously, that nothing ever changes, or that participation does not have a meaningful impact in their lives.
- Lack of authenticity. Politicians are sometimes forced to toe the party line rather than act as individual representatives.
- Feeling that individual votes may not matter.
- Leaders should have authentic and meaningful discussions with youth. Talk with them, not to them.
- Look for opportunities to connect to youth in unofficial ways.
- Create opportunities for direct contact between youth and politicians (e.g. MP or all-candidates' meetings), with an emphasis on the issues that are relevant to youth.
- Encourage youth and politicians to break the vicious circle. When youth don't vote, politicians have less incentive to address their issues, which in turn further encourages young people not to vote.
- Voting can be seen as inconvenient, particularly for youth who move around a lot. Some youth have difficulties with transportation.
- The frequency of elections and variations in rules across different jurisdictions (municipal, provincial, federal) can create confusion about where, when and how to vote.
- Youth may feel that they do not have the time to find out how to register and vote.
- Organize and promote youth voter registration drives, particularly in locations frequented by youth.
- Make sure youth are present in official institutions and at polling places. Hire youth to work in elections.
- Set up polling stations on university and college campuses.
- Bring voting and registration opportunities to where people naturally congregate (e.g. shopping malls).
- Include candidate pictures and short summaries of candidate platforms at polling stations and online.
|Lack of role models
- Youth lack politically engaged role models in their family and communities.
- Lack of positive political role models for youth.
- Families are not talking about politics around the dinner table.
- Showcase youth role models.
- Promote inter-generational role modelling.
- Get children excited about civic engagement so that they engage their parents. The parents then learn more about important issues and provide more depth to their children's understanding, creating a virtuous circle of engagement.
- The proliferation of technology can distract and prevent collective discussions even as it provides new opportunities for engagement.
- Technology should not be a substitute for real engagement, but it can be used strategically.
- Make information available online, use website widgets, infographics, documentaries, social media and technology like Google Maps to show where voting polls are located.
- Ensure social media accounts are actively used, are relevant to all followers (not just a few) and send positive messages.
- Use social media to complement traditional media (e.g. giveaways, newsletters, push reminders, guerrilla marketing).
|Lack of cooperation between organizations
- Organizations are sometimes in competition for resources.
- Organizations can be very busy and do not always have time to work together.
- Partner with youth leaders/organizations that work with youth. Buy-in from these leaders can influence youth and cross-partnerships will prevent duplication of efforts/resources.
- Celebrate what other organizations are doing; share resources and successes. Build alliances, communities and movements.
VI. Getting ready for 2015
Participants identified multiple actions that they would undertake to help prepare youth to vote in the next federal election. The following is a list of commitments that were made during the workshops. They are grouped together and organized sequentially as part of a general plan that can be pursued by any organization in the lead-up to 2015.
1. Preparing your organization
- Listen to youth and involve them in planning and decision making. Conduct youth focus groups.
- Facilitate a discussion on voting and civic engagement at an AGM. Involve youth leaders who are already active in civic engagement.
- Train staff in civic engagement so they are able to effectively reach out to youth.
- Involve youth in developing organizational terms of reference and roles.
- Expand youth-focused programs and projects dealing with civic engagement.
- Incorporate Democracy Talks into programming. Train young leaders to facilitate.
- Link civic engagement to other areas of action addressed by your organization.
2. Preparing youth
- Organize participatory and experiential activities (e.g. model parliaments, visiting legislatures, mentorship programs with political actors) and youth-driven activities (e.g. workshops delivered by youth).
- Organize a mock election.
- Talk about voting and make the election a centre of conversation.
- Conduct voter-education campaigns at the community level.
- Train "democratic ambassadors" to present to community organizations.
- Hold a community BBQ.
- Hold youth-oriented workshops to increase civic awareness and knowledge.
Host events such as debates or question-and-answer sessions where youth can interact with candidates and elected officials.
- Build closer relationships with politicians and strengthen the capacity of youth to have discussions with them. Hold consultations where candidates can directly engage with youth on issues.
- Hold non-partisan information sessions. Host events that include an educational component on voting (e.g. pub nights).
- Design and conduct workshops that specifically target immigrant youth to help them learn about Canadian democracy and democratic processes in Canada.
- Target people who are least likely to know about politics.
- Promote electoral literacy through the development of a plain language electoral glossary or handbook.
- Produce a documentary to raise awareness on youth and voting.
- Break down party platforms into easy-to-understand language.
- Encourage youth to explore what political parties are doing on specific issues.
- Create safe spaces to learn about elections and discuss relevant issues to build confidence and capacity to participate.
- Encourage youth to work at the polls.
3. Disseminating information on registering and voting
- Disseminate information from Elections Canada on where, when and ways to vote.
- Encourage youth to verify their registration status online.
- Conduct a student-voter registration drive; provide information on campus.
- Use a variety of sources to transmit registration and election-related information (radio, television, newspapers, ads, social media, etc.).
- Produce straightforward, youth-friendly resources. Use interactive methods.
- Bring voting and registration opportunities to where people naturally congregate (e.g. shopping malls).
- Leverage social media and create shareable content with information on voting.
- Organize a bus of youth going to vote for the first time. Use social media to promote.
Use social media to showcase youth who are voting (e.g. "I voted" picture). Challenge friends and family to vote. Create social media badges, hashtags and voting ribbons for Facebook and Twitter.
- Create a campaign to recognize first-time voters (e.g. stickers at polling places).
- Launch a campaign for youth to take selfies outside polling stations and share them with their networks. Set up selfie stations.
- Promote friendly get-out-the-vote competitions between the different floors of student residences.
- Create entertaining videos encouraging youth to vote.
- Conduct a vote mob.
- Start a campaign that encourages parents to bring their kids to vote.
- Launch a campaign for youth to vote with a buddy ("friends don't let friends not vote").
- Help with transportation.
- Throw a post-election party for youth.
5. Working together
- Collaborate with other youth-serving agencies to avoid duplication of activities and multiply reach. Post civic engagement-related links on organizational websites.
- Contribute to planning tools that different organizations can use (e.g. a common platform where organizations can post their engagement plans).
- Support and promote groups that are already doing great civic engagement work.
- Help develop a youth engagement community.
- Create a get-out-the-vote network.
VII. What's needed
To help realize these commitments, participants identified the following needs:
- Partnerships with like-minded organizations.
- Meeting other civic engagement organizations and finding out who's doing what.
- Ongoing contact with Inspire Democracy participants.
- Teachers willing to participate and bring students to events.
- Role models (including families, politicians and community leaders).
- Tools, such as those found on Inspire Democracy.
- Visuals to convey information on the voting process and civic engagement more generally (e.g. infographics, information trees, YouTube videos).
- Voter information guides.
- Community spaces where youth can have open dialogues.
- Education to understand the process. Information sessions.
- Information that is accessible.
- More workshops to provide opportunities for networking and exchange.
- Elections Canada social media presence with apps and shareable information on how to vote.
- Free, youth-friendly civic education materials, especially for underrepresented youth groups (e.g. Aboriginal youth).
- Regular webinars for the staff of youth-serving organizations across the country.
VIII. Looking ahead
The workshops provided an unprecedented opportunity to build a community of youth engagement organizations across Canada dedicated to informing and encouraging youth to vote. In the lead-up to the 2015 federal election, Elections Canada is committed to working with this community and ensuring that organizations have the resources and information they need to reach out to young Canadians. Accordingly, Elections Canada will do the following in the months ahead:
- Launch a series of monthly webinars to showcase new research on youth engagement, including a webinar on registration and voting. The webinars will also provide an opportunity for organizations to provide updates on their activities.
- Continue to make research, tools and information available and accessible through the Inspire Democracy website and newsletter.
- Provide materials on registration and voting in the lead-up to the federal election.
- Continue to offer a platform for organizations to network and provide updates to one another.
- Help organizations exchange information and stay in contact with one another.
Elections Canada would like to thank both the organizations and individuals who participated in this important workshop series. The quality of the discussions that took place and the range of experiences that were shared ensured that the series was a great success.
We look forward to working with you as we prepare for 2015!
Appendix A: Workshop Cities and Dates
Appendix B: Participant Organizations*
3 Things for Calgary – Mayor's Civic Engagement Committee
Antyx Community Arts
Bringing Youth Towards Equality
Get Out the Vote, University of Calgary
Mount Royal University
SAIT Students' Association
Students' Association of Mount Royal University
University of Calgary
University of Lethbridge Students' Union
Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities
Boyle Street Community Services
Boys and Girls Club – Leduc
Canadian Native Friendship Centre
Edmonton Public Library
Jasper Place High School, Global Café
John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights
Metis Nation of Alberta
The Candora Society of Edmonton
Council of Alberta University Students
University of Regina's Student Union
YMCA – Edmonton
Boys and Girls Club of East Dartmouth
Chebucto Connections Pathways to Education
Elections Nova Scotia
Heartwood Centre for Community Youth Development
LeBrun Recreation Centre (Halifax Regional Municipality)
Students Nova Scotia
Centre accueil et d'accompagnement francophone des immigrants
Community Sector Council of Newfoundland and Labrador
Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick
New Brunswick 4H
Rabbittown Community Centre
University of New Brunswick Student Union
St. Thomas University Students' Union
University of New Brunswick
YMCA of Greater Moncton
Centre d'encadrement pour jeunes femmes
Comité des jeunes
Conseil jeunesse de Montréal
Fédération des associations étudiantes du campus
de l'Université de Montréal
Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec
Forum jeunesse de l'île de Montréal
Forum jeunesse des Laurentides
Forum jeunesse Estrie
Forum jeunesse Lanaudière
Forum jeunesse Longueuil
Forum jeunesse Vallée-du-Haut-St-Laurent
La Maison d'Haïti
McGill University – The Centre for the Study of
Montréal Urban Ecology Centre
Mouvement pour une démocratie nouvelle
Quebec Community Groups Network
Table de concertation des forums jeunesse
régionaux du Québec
Concordia University – The Centre for the Study of
Ville de Montréal
YMCA of Québec
Canadian Federation of Students
Children's Aid Society – Ottawa
Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française
Forum for Young Canadians
Michaëlle Jean Foundation
Association des étudiantes et étudiants de Laval inscrits aux études supérieures
Carrefour jeunesse-emploi de la MRC de Montmagny
Directeur général des élections du Québec
Électeurs en herbe
Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec
Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec
Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec
Forum jeunesse de la région de la Capitale-Nationale
Forum jeunesse régional Chaudière-Appalaches
Regroupement Action Jeunesse 02
Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec
First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Youth Network
Table de concertation des forums jeunesse régionaux du Québec
Afghan Association of Ontario
Agincourt Community Services Association
Albanian Canadian Association
Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services
Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada – National Office
Centre for Community Partnerships
Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement/Students Commission
City of Toronto (City Clerk's Office)
Coalition of Youth Councils
Girls Action Foundation
Hart House, University of Toronto
North York Community House
The Next Edition
Toronto Community Housing
Youth Employment Services
Canadian Women Voters Congress
Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House
Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions
City of Vancouver
Elections Canada – Vancouver East
Engaged City Task Force
Engaged Immigrant Youth (Vancouver School Board)
My Vote Matters
SFU Public Square
Simon Fraser University Student Society
UBC Alma Mater Society
UBC Graduate Student Society
University of the Fraser Valley
YMCA of Greater Vancouver
Young Women Civic Leaders/Justice Education
Society of BC
Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Central Neighbourhoods Development Corporation
City of Winnipeg (City Clerk's Department)
Literacy Partners of Manitoba
YMCA–YWCA of Winnipeg
*National organizations that presented at the workshops are not included (see II. Introduction for these organizations).