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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report – Québec, September 18–19, 2014

The seventh Inspire Democracy workshop was held on September 18–19 in Québec City, 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 19 participants representing 14 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 of the Inspire Democracy Workshop Series will be released later in 2014.

Day 1: Thursday, September 18

Miriam Fahmy discusses barriers to civic engagement
Miriam Fahmy discusses barriers to civic engagement

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.

Two key points were highlighted:

  • 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 process.
  • 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 culture, values, education, personal finances and social networks.

Participants identify possible solutions to civic disengagement
Participants identify possible solutions to civic disengagement

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

  • A lack of civic culture in homes and schools: Parents, teachers, and youth leaders do not always have the expertise or time to discuss civic engagement. Youth cannot learn to prioritize civic engagement if they have no role models for doing so.
  • Existing stereotypes of youth: If adults and civic leaders hold negative misconceptions about youth, youth will not feel compelled or welcome to participate.
  • Competing priorities: Between school, jobs, and extracurricular activities, some youth may not feel that they have the time to become civically active. The electoral process could better meet these time constraints.
  • Real or perceived lack of issue relevance to youth: Public issues are not always discussed in the context of youth, so youth are not always attracted to civic discussions. This creates a negative, self-reinforcing cycle wherein youth do not participate in conversations so leaders do not reach out to them.
  • Youth perceive the voting process to be inaccessible: Whether it is the voting process or the language used by public figures, participants felt that voting is not accessible to youth.

Afternoon session

Elections Canada (Miriam Lapp) presented on what the research says about 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.
  • Participants inquired about how civic education can be expanded beyond a high school civics course. Miriam Lapp agreed that it is important that civic education take place over a more sustained period of time, and that it is important to reach youth outside of the formal school setting.

INM (Miriam Fahmy) presented on how to overcome obstacles to youth engagement.

  • Miriam Fahmy presented on the various civic engagement programs that INM offers, and the lessons it has learned. As a result of its 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- to 24-year-olds
    • Compulsory voting, including the ability to cast a blank ballot
    • Semi-proportional voting system
  • In the group discussion that followed, participants agreed that major electoral changes are needed to make civic participation more appealing to youth. The system must be more inclusive and accessible.

Day 2: Friday, September 19

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.

Morning session

Effective Methods for Increasing Youth Electoral Engagement (Stakeholder Presentations)

Élie Belley-Pelletier, Table de concertation des forums jeunesse régionaux du Québec (TCFJRQ)

  • Élie Belley-Pelletier spoke about using youth-targeted communication campaigns. The TCFJRQ has previously organized various youth-based outreach campaigns and found, among other things, that social media can be an effective tool for exerting social pressure on youth to act.

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. Youth vote results from the parallel elections often closely resembled the actual election outcomes. Francis Sabourin encouraged participants to engage youth on campaign issues by inviting them to candidates' debates and encouraging them to participate.

Jonathan Bouchard and Alexis Tremblay talk about the FEUQ and FECQ
Jonathan Bouchard and Alexis Tremblay talk about the FEUQ and FECQ

Jonathan Bouchard, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), and Alexis Tremblay, Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ)

  • Representatives of the FEUQ and the FECQ discussed the importance of making the voting process accessible to youth. Jonathan Bouchard and Alexis Tremblay support the use of campus polling stations and targeted election advertisements to youth. The two hope that politicians will start to take notice as youth become more aware, involved, and interested in the political process.

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.

Monica Rosales, Directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ)

  • Monica Rosales spoke about the role of student councils for mobilizing young people. The DGEQ works with schools across the province of Quebec. It advises student councils to use web-based platforms to not only connect within their own groups, but to also reach out to other groups that are doing similar work.

Group Activity: Participants' Viewpoints on Effective Methods for Engaging Youth

Following the stakeholder presentations, participants were asked to brainstorm effective methods to increase youth civic engagement. Suggestions included:

  • Organize and promote youth voter registration drives, particularly in locations frequented by youth.
  • Minimize administrative barriers that candidates face to increase participation in all candidates' debates.
  • Encourage a social culture around voting and civic participation.
  • Ensure that civic education resources and election-related information are easily accessible. As people are more aware of the issues, they are more likely to vote.
  • Reduce the barriers that students face when voting outside of their "home" riding.
  • Use social media and online campaigns to target youth, but do not solely rely on these methods as their effectiveness can be hard to measure.
  • Conduct a tour of schools to inform and register youth.
  • Implement a web-based platform containing all election-related information and a voter registration status tool.
  • Use polling stations on campus.

Participants discuss actions they can take
Participants discuss actions they can take

Group Activity: Encourage youth to act! Actions and Strategies for Future Elections

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

  • In addition to leaders' debates, hold consultation sessions where candidates can directly engage on issues.
  • Contact youth directly and encourage civic leaders to do the same.
  • Hold youth-oriented workshops to increase civic awareness and knowledge.
  • Develop partnerships between Aboriginal groups and raise awareness in these communities about the value of their vote.
  • Ensure that there are a variety of sources available from which youth can obtain registration- and election-related information (e.g. advertisements on radio, television, newspapers, direct meetings). As well, provide free news sources on campus.
  • Encourage youth to verify their registration status online.
  • Produce straightforward, youth-friendly resources.

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

  • Partnerships with other groups conducting youth outreach activities.
  • Basic resources that explain the "where, when, and how to vote."
  • Access to free and youth-friendly civic education materials.
  • Funding.
  • More research and civic education materials targeted to underrepresented youth groups (e.g. Aboriginal youth).

At the end of the workshop, Elections Canada Assistant Director of Outreach, 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 Lapp emphasized the importance of building an engagement community and working together 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.

Appendix: Participating organizations

  • L'apathie c'est plate
  • 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 (DGEQ)
  • Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec (FCSQ)
  • Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ)
  • Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ)
  • Forum jeunesse de la région de la Capitale-Nationale
  • Électeurs en herbe
  • Forum jeunesse régional Chaudière-Appalaches
  • Institut du Nouveau Monde
  • Regroupement Action Jeunesse 02
  • Regroupement des centres d'amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ)
  • First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Youth Network
  • Table de concertation des forums jeunesse régionaux du Québec (TCFJRQ)