Taylor Byers and Jared Manzey

Taylor Byers and Jared Manzey

Student Vote BC gives lesson in democracy

A national program tries to ignite interest in politics among Chilliwack students.

The current election season isn’t just for adults. Thousands of Chilliwack students are following the campaign through their classrooms, and learning about the democratic process at the same time.

Motivating youth to care about politics, and encouraging young adults to vote, is a major challenge every election. Voter turnout has plummeted in recent decades in British Columbia, now hovering at just above half for those who register. In the 2009 general election, only 40 per cent of registered young adults cast a ballot. This is much lower than the turnout among the 55+ population, which sits at around 70 per cent.

For the past decade, a national program, Student Vote, has been doing its part to build interest among children and teenagers in the political process, in the hopes that they’ll vote when they can.

At Highroad Academy, a private Christian school in Chilliwack, all 250 students in Grades K–12 are taking part.

“It helps the kids understand the election process a little bit, and helps them understand that one vote can make a difference,” said teacher Julie Lade.

Twenty Chilliwack schools, including Highroad Academy, have received ballot boxes, voting screens, and lessons booklets from Student Vote. Teachers take students through the electoral history of B.C., how voting works, the different political parties and local candidates, and an explanation of why voting is important.

Students will hold a mock election on May 13, the day before the real election, to choose an MLA from among the candidates running in their riding.

At Central Elementary Community School, teacher Christopher Lister has even organized for the candidates in the Chilliwack riding to present their platforms in bite-sized, kid-friendly formats to students during the week of May 6. The students will ask questions, and the televised presentations will be streamed live so that other schools in the district can watch.

AD Rundle Middle School has been participating in Student Vote for several years.

“Usually before an election, students are quite disinterested in government and politics. Many cannot recall who the Prime Minister or the Premier are. However, after the program, and after we’ve done the vote, students are engaged with the politics, and have learned some of the local issues,” said teacher Paul Allanson.

All 290 students at the middle school are taking part.

“Hopefully, when they turn 18, they are going to be a civic individual, and want to participate in the democratic process,” said Allanson.

He has seen students take on the party affiliation of their parents, but this can sometimes change.

“When you start stimulating conversations, students start questioning some of their parents’ views on politics.”

In the 2009 provincial election, a total of 1,684 students in the Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Hope ridings mock elected New Democrat Gwen O’Mahony and Liberal John Les. While the students predicted Les’s real victory, they were three years too quick on the draw on O’Mahony’s, who lost in 2009 and won in the 2012 byelection. Provincially, B.C. students elected the NDP.

Teachers love the program, with 99 per cent saying they would run it again, according to an independent evaluation commissioned by Elections Canada in 2011.

“It’s definitely helped me along the way, in terms of my voting practices,” said Allanson. “For me, it’s had a positive impact, and I try to promote and influence as many individuals to get out and vote and have their say in this democratic process.”

Student Vote has even contributed to higher voter turnout among parents. Two-thirds of parents in the Elections Canada study said that their own interest in politics and knowledge of this election increased because their child participated in the program. And 20 per cent of voting parents said that their child’s participation in the program encouraged them to vote.

“It spurs on a lot of good debate,” said Lade. “For some of the kids, they go home, and if their parents weren’t too enthusiastic to vote, they’ll put some pressure on them, and say, ‘hey, why aren’t we voting? I’ll go with you.'”

Students also like to see how closely a real election day resembles the mock election at school.

“I’ve had a number of kids who have graduated who have gone on to volunteer, or to work with parties, or be scrutinizers, or work at elections, because they get engaged in the process and think it’s pretty cool,” said Lade.

One quirk among young mock voters is that they generally give much more weight to the Green Party than do adults. Student Vote students in the 2009 mock provincial election awarded the Greens 27 per cent of the vote. The party won among AD Rundle students that year. In Allanson’s class this year, the three big election issues that students chose to discuss are Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, drinking water chlorination, and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

Local wild salmon activist Eddie Gardner believes that youth are especially concerned about their environmental future.

“The youth in our communities, they’re looking to the future with being very worried about what kind of legacy is going to be left behind for them. Our youth are very concerned about the current direction where things are going,” said Gardner.

Chilliwack Green Party candidate Kim Reimer is particularly looking forward to her presentation to Central Elementary students in early May.

“When my husband was young, his school had a debate where the politicians came and talked to the students. One of those politicians really connected with the students, and my husband was interested in politics from then on,” she said. “I believe that by participating in this kind of debate, my opponents and I have the unique opportunity to reach future voters and hopefully begin to break the cycle of politically disinterested youth.”


Just Posted

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
Student’s quote in Chilliwack high school yearbook equates graduation with end of slavery

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months. (RCMP photo)
Chilliwack RCMP looking for missing 20-year-old woman

Police say Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months

RCMP seek dash-cam footage after Chilliwack road rage incident

Male driving a black pickup stopped and allegedly threatened to punch another driver

Doses prepared at pop-up vaccine clinic in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, in the M3N postal code, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. ( THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston)
4 vaccine clinics coming to Neighbourhood Learning Centre

Fraser Health made clinics ‘low-barrier’ meaning pre-registration not required

Deepak Sharma of Abbotsford has been convicted of the sexual assault of one of his cab passengers in West Vancouver in January 2019.
Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

Deepak Sharma assaulted a female passenger when he was a cab driver

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Most Read