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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report –Montréal, September 25–26, 2014

The eighth Inspire Democracy workshop was held on September 25–26 in Montréal, Quebec. The purpose of the workshop was to help youth-serving organizations understand the issue of declining youth civic engagement, equip them with tools to address it, and invite them to take action to ensure youth are ready to vote in the 2015 general election.

A total of 33 participants representing 24 organizations attended the workshop (see appendix for a list of participating organizations). Participants were active throughout the workshop, and contributed to discussion on the causes of declining youth participation and the actions that organizations can take to re-engage youth in civic and democratic life.

Below is a short summary of workshop highlights. Reports for other workshops held to date are also available on the Inspire Democracy website under Events. A final report on the Inspire Democracy Workshop Series will be released later in 2014.

Day 1: Thursday, September 25

Morning session

Session A: Participants began by developing a common understanding of youth civic engagement and the barriers that prevent youth from participating fully in civic life. Miriam Fahmy from the Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM) provided an overview on citizen participation and civic engagement.

Several key points were highlighted:

  • The INM defines citizen participation as the exercise and expression of citizenship through active social, public and electoral participation. Social participation happens throughout citizens' everyday activities, public participation takes place in spaces where public decisions are made, and electoral participation relates to the voting and political processes.
  • While it forms the base of democracy, citizen participation is not limited to elections and the voting process: it is a way of life. Participation can be motivated by a number of factors, including interest, culture, values, education or skills to participate, personal finances, social networks, and seeing the impact of one's participation.

Following Ms. Fahmy's presentation, the group discussed barriers and obstacles to civic engagement. Barriers included the following:

  • Limited civic education: youth lack knowledge, resources and access to information about the political process and elections. They do not understand the workings of government, lack information about political parties, and are confused about the mechanics of voting (e.g. where students should vote if they moved to attend school).
  • Lack of representative role models: candidates and politicians do not represent the diversity of the population. Young role models are particularly absent, as are female representatives.
  • Cynicism and a lack of interest and confidence in the electoral system: parties are seen as competitive and focused on older voters. Youth do not relate to the issues discussed in electoral campaigns, nor are they discussed in a "youth-friendly" way. There is a lack of genuine dialogue both between politicians and citizens as well as within family and peer circles.
  • Competing priorities: both youth and other socio-economically disadvantaged groups (such as recent immigrants) are focused on meeting basic survival needs.

Afternoon sessions

Experiences promoting participation


Experiences promoting participation

Session B: Elections Canada (Miriam Lapp) presented trends in youth electoral participation, what the research says about barriers, and the type of knowledge and action that supports youth electoral engagement. Research shows that youth face both access and motivational barriers to voting. Organizations can take action to help youth overcome these barriers both between and during elections.

After Ms. Lapp's presentation, the group discussed the experiences and knowledge that are necessary in order to be ready to vote for the first time, including the following:

Experiences

  • Participating in practical and experiential activities before attaining the voting age, such as election simulations (e.g. Électeurs en herbe, mock parliaments, and accompaniment of parents to polling places)
  • Discussing political and electoral issues of relevance with parents and peers, and having positive role models encouraging participation from within these groups
  • Participating in other forms of civic engagement, such as signing a petition or getting involved in a cause
  • Becoming and staying informed about issues by, for example, reading the newspaper and attending debates
  • Developing an attitude of voting as a responsibility

Knowledge promoting participation

Knowledge promoting participation

Knowledge

  • Who the candidates are, key issues, and the platforms of candidates and political parties
  • How the political system works and differences between levels of government
  • Information about the voting process, such as eligibility, how to register, the different voting options, how to locate their polling place, and rules about where students may vote
  • Criteria they can use to decide who to vote for
  • The understanding that each vote in valuable

Session C: Ms. Fahmy from the INM gave a presentation on how to overcome obstacles to youth engagement. She explained the various civic engagement programs that the INM offers and the lessons it has learned.

As a result of its work, the 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 9 civics course
  • Lowering of the voting age to 16
  • Voluntary civic service for 16- to 24-year-olds
  • Compulsory voting, including the ability to cast a blank ballot
  • A semi-proportional voting system

In the group discussion that followed, participants discussed a range of support and opposition to the INM's various proposals. Participants agreed that major electoral changes are needed to make civic participation more appealing to youth. The system must be more inclusive and accessible. Participants encouraged the idea of making voting a community-based activity.

Day 2: Friday, September 26

Day 2 of the workshop included presentations and discussions on good practices in youth engagement and actions that organizations can undertake to encourage youth to participate. Participants were encouraged to share their engagement tools with Elections Canada for inclusion on the Inspire Democracy website.

Morning sessions

Session D: Effective Methods for Increasing Youth Electoral Engagement (Stakeholder Presentations)

Marie-Laure Landais, Forum jeunesse de l'île de Montréal (FJIM)

  • The FJIM is a consultative, non-partisan body representing over 500 youth groups in the Montréal area. Ms. Landais presented challenges to youth participation and projects implemented during various elections to mobilize youth to participate. These projects included in-person activities, such as debates, and the release of YouTube videos to reach less engaged youth.

Francis Sabourin, Électeurs en herbe

  • From 2009 to 2014, Électeurs en herbe (Voters in Training) reached over 300,000 young people in Quebec through parallel elections in schools and related civic education programming (including 60,000 participants in the last Quebec provincial election). Youth vote results from the parallel elections often closely resembled the actual election outcomes. Mr. Sabourin encouraged participants to engage youth on campaign issues by inviting them to candidates' debates and encouraging them to participate.

Ilona Dougherty, Apathy is Boring (AisB)

  • As a national organization, AisB has reached over 5,000 youth between 2008 and 2013. Through extensive conversations with youth, AisB has found that more attention needs to be paid to chronically unengaged youth and that it is important to not assume that youth do not care about politics. Various election-time projects were presented, including an e-mail outreach project in Alberta, a peer-to-peer registration project in British Columbia, street teams and Aboriginal youth outreach.

Sylvia Martin-Laforge, Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN)

  • The QCGN is a not-for-profit organization linking 41 English-language community organizations across Quebec. English-speaking youth in Quebec face lower political participation and representation compared to their Francophone counterparts. During the 2014 Quebec election, QCGN launched "Vote it Up" to encourage young English-speaking Quebecers to vote. The initiative used a well-known spokesperson as the face of the campaign. It included TV and radio interviews; development of the Put on Your Pants, Go Vote video; attendance at youth-driven events; and an interactive Facebook contest.

Annie Marier, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ)

  • The FEUQ discussed the importance of making the voting process accessible to youth and the various challenges this group experiences, such as mobility, the less-than-ideal location of polling places and a lack of proper ID.
  • Ms. Marier highlighted work that the FEUQ and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec undertook in the last provincial election to encourage students to vote. This included organizing on-campus debates and running a promotional campaign (through advertising, e-mail and social media) that encouraged students to vote at polling stations on campus. The newly legislated requirement to place polling stations on every Quebec campus during the last provincial election was viewed as particularly successful in increasing student turnout. The presentation also emphasized the importance of reaching out to schools outside the main metropolitan regions.

Session E: Group Activity – Encourage Youth to Act! Actions and Strategies for Future Elections

Following the stakeholder presentations, participants discussed the actions that could be taken to increase youth engagement for the 2015 general election, and the information and tools required to support such actions.

Organizations recommended or committed to undertaking the following actions:

  • Organizing discussion sessions and debates with elected representatives to build a rapport and discuss issues of relevance to youth (e.g. on campuses)
  • Motivating families and communities to become more involved in encouraging youth to vote (e.g. community events on voting days to create a fun and less intimidating voting process)

  • Participants talk about what works in youth engagement

    Organizing recruitment drives for 16- to 18-year-olds to work in elections
  • Creating groups of youth who can explain the issues and process to other young people
  • Reaching out to youth less likely to be reached or less likely to vote (e.g. at sporting or art events, citizenship ceremonies, trade schools, or on the streets)
  • Encouraging young leaders to become candidates and holding information sessions on the process
  • Locating polling stations in more accessible spaces, such as schools or YMCAs
  • Holding more activities to explain the electoral process to community-based organizations, for networking, to highlight the work of organizations, and to share existing tools (e.g. workshops like Inspire Democracy) – and encouraging media to profile this work
  • Creating a centralized mailing list for community groups to use during elections to encourage voting
  • Organizing youth-focused events about the electoral process, such as vote camps and the INM's École d'été
  • Creating a unique voter information card for first-time voters (e.g. congratulating them or communicating different messages)
  • Automatically registering all electors (as is done provincially in Quebec)


Participants discuss actions they can take to encourage youth to participate

Participants identified a need for the following tools and information to support these activities:

  • Videos about the electoral system and process, and interactive tools
  • Summaries of existing election programs and tools that others can use
  • Social media presence by Elections Canada and a more user-friendly website
  • More readily accessible research and statistics for the public
  • Use of celebrities as spokespeople and in videos to encourage voting
  • Dynamic tools about where, when and ways to vote that groups can use
  • Support for family voting (e.g. child care for parents while voting and a mock voting station within the real polling place for youth to practice voting)

At the end of the workshop, Ms. Lapp demonstrated Elections Canada's online registration system. As the agency's Assistant Director of Outreach, she reaffirmed its commitment to reaching out to youth to ensure they know how to register and vote in the upcoming 2015 federal election.

Ms. Lapp emphasized the importance of building an engagement community and working together to advance youth participation in the lead-up to the 2015 election. Elections Canada will stay in contact with participants (e.g. through newsletters) and, as the election gets closer, will make tools available that organizations can use to promote where, when and ways to vote.

Appendix: Participating organizations

  • Apathy is Boring
  • Centre d'encadrement pour jeunes femmes immigrantes
  • Comité des jeunes de la Centrale des syndicats du Québec
  • Concordia University, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship
  • Conseil jeunesse de Montréal
  • Fédération des associations étudiantes du campus de l'Université de Montréal
  • Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, Travailleurs et travailleuses unis de l'alimentation et du commerce 501
  • Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec
  • Forum jeunesse de la Vallée-du-Haut-Saint-Laurent
  • Forum jeunesse de l'île de Montréal
  • Forum jeunesse des Laurentides
  • Forum jeunesse Estrie
  • Forum jeunesse Lanaudière
  • Forum jeunesse Longueuil
  • Génération d'idées
  • Institut du Nouveau Monde
  • La Maison d'Haïti
  • McGill University, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship
  • Montréal Urban Ecology Centre
  • Mouvement pour une démocratie nouvelle
  • Quebec Community Groups Network
  • Table de concertation des forums jeunesse régionaux du Québec
  • Ville de Montréal
  • YMCAs of Québec