OPINION

Take your chil­dren with you to the polls on Nov. 5

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CE­LINE COOPER

Hey, fel­low par­ents, it’s time to push your kids to de­velop a life­long habit. While you’re at it, why not make it a fam­ily af­fair?

I’m talk­ing about vot­ing. While the of­fi­cial date for Mon­treal’s gen­eral elec­tion is Sun­day, Nov. 5, vot­ing to fill the of­fice of city mayor, as well as for bor­ough may­ors, city coun­cil­lors and bor­ough coun­cil­lors in the city’s 19 bor­oughs has al­ready be­gun with ad­vance polling sta­tions around the city.

On Sun­day, my fam­ily trudged out in the rain and took part in this demo­cratic ex­er­cise to­gether, as we al­ways do. Not only was it heart­en­ing to see so many peo­ple lined up pa­tiently out­side our lo­cal school gym­na­sium to cast their bal­lot (the re­turn­ing of­fi­cer for elec­tions Mon­treal con­firmed that 74,733 peo­ple — 6.54 per cent of regis­tered elec­tors — turned out to vote at the ad­vance poll on Oct. 29), but that so many were there with their kids. I watched as many par­ents took the time to ex­plain the process, even bring­ing their lit­tle ones with them into the vot­ing booth.

Even though they may not be old enough to ac­tu­ally cast a bal­lot, it’s worth talk­ing to chil­dren about the is­sues, and bring­ing them along to take part in the po­lit­i­cal process. Vot­ing is habit form­ing; the ear­lier chil­dren are taught about the sig­nif­i­cance and im­por­tance of be­ing in­formed and par­tic­i­pat­ing, the more likely they are to be­come life­long vot­ers.

Here’s why it mat­ters. Voter turnout for mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in Mon­treal has tra­di­tion­ally been quite low. We also know that older-age co­horts are more likely to vote than younger pop­u­la­tions.

To be fair, there is re­search to sug­gest that while young peo­ple to­day are less en­gaged and less aware of their rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties than ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, they are not ac­tu­ally

Voter turnout for mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in Mon­treal has tra­di­tion­ally been quite low.

dis­en­gaged from demo­cratic life. It is true, how­ever, that they are less likely to par­tic­i­pate in th­ese pro­cesses in tra­di­tional, mea­sur­able ways, and that in­cludes vot­ing. Knowl­edge of the elec­tions process it­self has been iden­ti­fied as a bar­rier to youth vot­ing. It’s im­por­tant for par­ents to help de­mys­tify the process.

While young Mon­treal­ers en­gage with our city every day, they don’t al­ways see them­selves — their ex­pe­ri­ences, needs and pri­or­i­ties — re­flected back at them by our politicians and po­lit­i­cal par­ties. There’s a fairly ob­vi­ous rea­son for that. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties at all three lev­els of gov­ern­ment tend to be more fo­cused on their own im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal for­tunes, and don’t nec­es­sar­ily have an in­ter­est or an in­vest­ment in en­gag­ing di­rectly with young peo­ple. Why? Be­cause chil­dren and teens aren’t (yet) vot­ers or tax­pay­ers or home­own­ers, and are typ­i­cally ap­proached as de­pen­dents. But fos­ter­ing a strong ur­ban cit­i­zen­ship from a young age — and by this I mean a sense of own­er­ship, a po­lit­i­cally ac­tive and so­cially em­bed­ded sense of rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties — is es­sen­tial to the health and suc­cess not only of Mon­treal, but Cana­dian democ­racy as a whole.

To make this hap­pen, you’ve got to start while they’re young. It’s worth not­ing that there are some great civic or­ga­ni­za­tions out there fo­cused on pro­mot­ing aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing of our demo­cratic process among young peo­ple, in­clud­ing the Mon­treal-based Ap­a­thy is Bor­ing.

We’re in the fi­nal stretch of a pretty ex­cit­ing elec­tion. In­cum­bent mayor De­nis Coderre of Équipe Coderre and Valérie Plante, leader of Pro­jet Mon­tréal, are neck and neck for the may­oral seat. The lat­est CROP poll re­leased Mon­day has Plante favoured by 39 per cent of vot­ers, and Coderre by 37 per cent. The poll sug­gests that 17 per cent of vot­ers re­main un­de­cided.

Vot­ing is learned be­hav­iour. So get out to vote, and bring your kids with you. Ac­tive, en­gaged cit­i­zens — not po­lit­i­cal par­ties — are the true guar­an­tors of Canada’s democ­racy, and to­mor­row’s vot­ers are the ones who will en­sure that Canada has a healthy, vi­brant and re­silient democ­racy as we move into the fu­ture.

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