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Inspire Democracy Workshop Series
Highlights Report – Winnipeg, June 4–5, 2014

Organizational crests prepared by different participants.

The fifth Inspire Democracy workshop was held on June 4–5 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 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 12 participants representing 8 organizations attended the workshop, including 2 youth delegates (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 reengage 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: Wednesday, June 4

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:

Participants identify barriers to civic engagement.

  • Civic engagement needs to be inclusive and incorporate all segments of the community.
  • Knowledge, skills, values and motivation are all core aspects of civic engagement and need to be addressed as a whole; however, elaborating on their specific meaning would be helpful.
  • Civic engagement can take many forms and shouldn't be limited to individual actions.

Barriers to civic engagement were defined as follows:

  • There is a lack of knowledge and education on civic engagement. This leads to people not being "literate" in the associated vocabulary and therefore impedes their active participation.
  • There is a lot of negativity surrounding politics that can be a barrier for citizens to be civically engaged. This includes negative messaging surrounding political figures in the media, focus on political infighting rather than important issues, and a lack of positive political role models for youth.
  • The current electoral system doesn't encourage participation. There is a feeling that individual votes may not matter. This is the result of the first-past-the-post system and the existence of "safe" ridings for certain political parties.

Day 2: Thursday, June 5

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

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 action to help youth overcome these barriers.
  • During the discussion, the potential usefulness of social media was brought up.
  • The topic of how, when and where to vote was discussed, including the types of authorized identification and the important information that can be found on the Voter Information Card. Questions about registration were also answered.

Geneviève Baril presents lessons on how to engage youth based on the experience of the Institut du Nouveau Monde.

Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM) – Presentation on the INM's approach to engaging youth
(Geneviève Baril)

  • Geneviève Baril discussed the INM's civic engagement campaigns, lessons learned and achievements.
  • Geneviève suggested making voting into a "civic rite of passage" and that this could be based on five bold reforms:
  • Grade 9 civics course
  • Voting age of 16
  • Voluntary civic service for 16- to 24-year-olds
  • Compulsory voting, including the ability to cast a blank ballot
  • Semi-proportional voting system
  • Geneviève emphasized that these reforms should be seen as a "package deal." No single element of the package will, by itself, lead to an increase of youth civic engagement.

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 often mirror the results of the actual general election, and that youth don't have a tendency to vote for any particular party or ideology.
  • Taylor also spoke about Rep Day, which provides opportunities for candidates to interact with youth through open discussion and exchanges.
  • The conclusion of the session involved a group discussion of how 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.

Afternoon session

Youth engagement – Discussion on what works and good practices

Participants identified the following good practices for engaging youth:

  • Assign a task or goal. Be specific and set parameters that give youth focus.
  • Offer employment opportunities for youth – hiring youth during elections has the added bonus of engaging them civically.
  • Get children involved in the process by conducting mock elections. Mock elections help to naturalize the process and give young people much-needed practice at being engaged citizens.
  • 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 positive cycle of engagement.
  • Listen to youth and focus on what is important to them – be flexible in your programming to accommodate them.
  • Patience is needed with youth programming, which is not easy given that funding organizations often want to see immediate results.
  • Be consistent about checking in with youth on progress made in their respective programs.
  • Connect with youth where they operate – make proper use of technology and stay informed of youth-networking media sites.
  • Engagement with youth needs to be authentic. Having token youth present simply to say they have been consulted is not legitimate engagement.

Participants discuss actions they can take

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 for 2015:

  • Organize, or have youth organize, a community barbecue in the lead-up to the election. Invite local candidates to answer questions from youth.
  • Throw a post-election party for youth.
  • Include civic engagement in the five-year corporate plan.
  • Design a civic education program that runs all year.
  • Bring youth to the Manitoba legislature, so they can see it in action.
  • Design and conduct workshops that specifically target immigrant youth to help them adjust to Canadian democracy and democratic processes in Canada.
  • Start a campaign that encourages parents to bring their kids to vote.
  • Promote electoral literacy through the development of a plain language electoral glossary or handbook.

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

  • Guidelines on making polling stations more welcoming for young voters and pre-voters.
  • Continued access to, and expansion of, national and local youth civic engagement networks.
  • Support from Elections Canada, the Government of Canada or both for civic engagement programming.

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 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. Participants were 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

  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights
  • Central Neighbourhoods Development Corporation
  • City of Winnipeg (City Clerk's Department)
  • Elections Manitoba
  • Institut du Nouveau Monde
  • Literacy Partners of Manitoba
  • N.E.E.D.S. Inc.
  • YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg