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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report – Ottawa, May 26–27, 2014

The third Inspire Democracy workshop was held on May 26-27 in Ottawa, Ontario. 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 18 participants representing 12 organizations attended the workshop, including 3 youth delegates (see appendix for a list of participating organizations). Participants were actively engaged throughout the workshop and provided valuable feedback on both the causes of declining youth participation and the actions that organizations can take to reengage youth in civic and democratic life.

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


Day 1: Monday, May 26

Participants began by developing a common understanding of youth civic engagement and the barriers that prevent youth from participating fully in civic life.

Several themes were raised, including the following:

  • Civic engagement can take multiple forms. It is about making a difference and contributing to a quality of life through active participation. It is linked to a conception of the greater good.

  • It includes both political and non-political aspects, as well as both an individual and collective dimension. Civic engagement includes all segments of the community, and means taking into consideration the activities of all ages; it should be youth friendly.

  • Civic engagement is more than voting. It requires skills and knowledge.

Barriers to civic engagement were defined as follows:

  • Lack of Empowerment. The value of youth voice is not always appreciated, and youth are sometimes engaged in tokenistic ways that are not meaningful. Young people sometimes see politicians as non-receptive. But when youth don't vote, politicians ignore them, which in turn further encourages them not to vote. Politicians are often just focused on getting votes.

  • Lack of Resources. Youth with lower income or living in poverty must focus on making a living instead of being civically engaged. Youth are busier than in past (school, work, etc.) and must spend more time working.

  • Democracy is not always representative (e.g., visible minorities are not well represented).

  • Changing education. Shift in focus in educational priorities from civic to economic. Youth sometimes lack an understanding of political structures. Lack of education between elections.

  • Disconnect/ lack of relevance: civics is not taught in a way that is interesting. It can be difficult for youth to see how politics affects their lives.

  • Lack of authenticity: Politicians can appear to be fake. They are sometimes forced to toe the party line rather than act as individual representatives.

  • Lack of interest. There can be too many distractions and too much information to sustain interest in politics.

  • Disillusionment with the process: Information around politics is consistently negative.

Day 2: Tuesday, May 27

Day two of the workshop included presentations and discussions on good practices in youth engagement and actions that organizations can undertake to encourage youth to participate.

Morning session

Elections Canada presentation and discussion on what the research says about civic engagement (Miriam Lapp)

  • Research shows that youth face both access and motivational barriers to participation. Organizations can take actions to help youth overcome these barriers.

  • During the discussion, participants emphasized the importance of reaching all segments of youth, particularly those who tend to be marginalized.

  • Participants recognized the need for multiple groups to act to address declining voter turnout.


Youri Cormier talks about Apathy is Boring

Apathy is Boring – Presentation on Apathy is Boring's approach to engaging youth (Youri Cormier)

  • Youri Cormier spoke about Apathy is Boring's approach to engaging youth, emphasizing the importance of using humour, not being patronizing, and involving 'cool' people.

  • Many different tactics to reach youth are required – including in-person and online. 'Street Teams' that draw upon youth to reach out to youth are particularly effective. Youth who are already engaged can be used to reach those who are not; many interactions with young people are required to build their interest.

  • Youri 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.

  • Apathy is Boring will launch a centralized 'pledge to vote' campaign in 2015 to remind young people of election day and to show that there is power in numbers.

Civix - Presentation on Civix's activities (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 cannot be anticipated in advance, and that youth do not have a tendency to vote for any particular party or ideology.

  • The Rep Day program provides opportunities for elected representatives to interact with youth through open and informed discussion and exchanges.

  • The session ended with a discussion of what knowledge and experiences are important to encourage voting. By prioritizing knowledge and experience, youth-serving organizations can help young people develop voting plans.




Participants talk about what works in youth engagement

Afternoon session

Youth engagement – Discussion on what works and good practices

Participants identified the following good practices for engaging youth:

  • Making your organization and activities youth-friendly (e.g., having youth on your board of directors). Avoiding tokenism.

  • Hosting mock parliaments and elections so that youth can learn by doing.

  • Creating safe and comfortable environments where youth can express themselves openly. Meeting youth on their terms. Allowing for mistakes and encouraging risk-taking.

  • Using infographics and social media. Ensure social media accounts are actively used, are relevant to all followers (not just a few), and send positive messages.

  • Drawing upon images and art that are culturally relevant.

  • Being authentic.

  • Celebrating what other organizations are doing; sharing resources and successes. Building alliances, communities, and movements.

  • Serving food during events.

  • Creating spaces for role modelling, peer-to-peer engagement, and ongoing learning.


Participants commit to taking action in the 2015 general election

Mobilizing youth to action: actions that organizations can undertake

Participants discussed actions that can be undertaken to increase youth engagement on an ongoing basis and during the 2015 general election. Organizations committed to undertaking the following actions:

  • Contribute to planning tools that different organizations can use (e.g., a common platform where organizations can post their engagement plans, such as Inspire Democracy).

  • Host events where youth can interact with candidates and elected officials.

  • Conduct a student-voter registration drive; provide information on campus

  • Train students to do outreach.

  • Tell youth how, when and where to vote. Use entertaining videos.

  • Strengthen partnerships and collaborations.

  • Encourage a 'buddy voter system' whereby youth must vote with someone else.

  • Write a newsletter.


Friendly advice for Elections Canada

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

  • Information that is accessible. 'Cooler' information from Elections Canada (or partners such as Apathy is Boring).

  • More workshops to provide opportunities for networking and exchange.

  • Elections Canada social media presence with apps and shareable information on how to vote.

At the end of the workshop, Elections Canada Assistant Director Miriam Lapp reaffirmed the agency's commitment to reaching out to youth to ensure they know how to register and vote in the upcoming 2015 federal election. Miriam indicated that the spirit of collaboration encouraged by the workshop does not end there, and that Elections Canada will continue to work with others to advance youth participation in the lead up to the 2015 election. Participants were also encouraged to provide Elections Canada with feedback on the website. The report for the event will also be posted on the site.

Appendix: Organizations that participated

  • Apathy is Boring
  • Canadian Federation of Students
  • Children's Aid Society - Ottawa
  • Citizen's Academy
  • Civix
  • Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française (FJCF)
  • Forum for Young Canadians
  • Michaëlle Jean Foundation
  • Motivate Canada
  • NAFC
  • YOUCAN
  • Youth Ottawa