Democ­racy in prac­tice

Not yet of age, lo­cal stu­dents get an in­tro­duc­tion to On­tario’s elec­toral sys­tem in mock vote this week

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FAISAL ALI

WHILE ON­TAR­I­ANS OF VOT­ING age were mak­ing their choices at polling sta­tions, fu­ture vot­ers were be­ing in­tro­duced to the elec­toral process this week. The kids were cast­ing their bal­lots through Stu­dent Vote, a par­al­lel elec­tion that is be­ing run in schools across the prov­ince.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing class­rooms, in­clud­ing Grade 5 stu­dents of Lin­wood Pub­lic School, as well as the civics stu­dents at EDSS, will be go­ing through the en­tire process, and cast­ing a bal­lot for their pre­ferred can­di­date in their rid­ing. EDSS also opened the polls to the rest of the school, with vol­un­teers man­ning the polling sta­tions to as­sist their peers.

“As part of our Grade 5 so­cial stud­ies cur­ricu­lum – which is govern­ment – we talk about rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the lev­els of govern­ment, but we also talk about elec­tions and vot­ing,” explained Tanya Clarke, a Grade 5 teacher at Lin­wood PS who, along with fel­low teacher Laura Lim, helped pre­pare the stu­dents.

“Stu­dent Vote is a way to ac­tu­ally make it real [for stu­dents]. We get bal­lots that have the can­di­dates for our rid­ing on it. We have vot­ing screens and bal­lot boxes and the kids learn about all the roles on elec­tion day, and we hold a vote.”

For the EDSS stu­dents, many of them on the cusp of the le­gal vot­ing age, tak­ing part

in the elec­tion and learn­ing the is­sues is all the more rel­e­vant.

“I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to vote. It’s very im­por­tant to get in­volved in pol­i­tics be­cause if you don’t, then you’re just kind of ig­nor­ing one of the most im­por­tant things about liv­ing in the area,” said EDSS stu­dent Jared Wal­lis, who cast his bal­lot on Tues­day.

While the votes won’t be counted to­wards se­lect­ing the next pro­vin­cial govern­ment, it can none­the­less send a pow­er­ful mes­sage. The bal­lots will all be tal­lied up prov­ince-wide by CIVIX, the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­hind Stu­dent Vote, and pub­lished on their web­site, giv­ing peo­ple and politi­cians a look into what’s im­por­tant to the next gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers.

It’s also an op­por­tu­nity to in­still the po­lit­i­cal in­stinct early on.

“Your vote is such a pow­er­ful piece of paper. It ac­tu­ally is such a pow­er­ful piece of paper, and peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that, I don’t think, at all,” ob­served EDSS stu­dent Li­ette Fife, com­ment­ing on the ap­a­thy peo­ple of­ten feel to­wards the process.

In prepa­ra­tion for the mock-elec­tion, the young stu­dents at EDSS and Lin­wood had the op­por­tu­nity to learn about the dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties run­ning in the Kitch­ener-Con­estoga rid­ing and fa­mil­iar­iz­ing them­selves with the is­sues. Con­sid­er­ing it’s some­thing even adults of­ten strug­gle to do – turnout at the last gen­eral elec­tion was just 51 per cent – the ex­er­cise is all the more im­por­tant to learn at an ear­lier age.

“We learned [about] the par­ties and what they’re want­ing to do for the coun­try,” said Grade 5 Lin­wood stu­dent Ri­ley Paulitzki. “Like the NDP want­ing to take away Grade 6 and Grade 3 [EQAO] test­ing. The Lib­er­als want­ing to pro­vide more jobs.”

Asked what is­sues mo­ti­vated them, the Grade 5 stu­dents point to ed­u­ca­tion and health­care as be­ing two big ones. Un­sur­pris­ingly, many of the stu­dents were en­am­ored with the NDP’s promise to end the Ed­u­ca­tion Qual­ity and Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice (EQAO) test­ing re­quired for all Grade 6 stu­dents in the prov­ince.

Health care, and es­pe­cially the long wait-times at hos­pi­tals, was an­other is­sue many could re­late to, with a few of the stu­dents not­ing their own ex­pe­ri­ences wait­ing long hours in the emer­gency room.

“That peo­ple are hir­ing more nurses and stuff,” said Ruby Rose, who was vol­un­teer­ing hand­ing out bal­lots to the other stu­dents. “[Be­cause] the wait times are so long.”

“And free ed­u­ca­tion, so you don’t have to pay to go to school,” added Hunter Mer­chant.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to hear what the kids think is im­por­tant,” said their teacher Tanya Clarke.

“A lot of our dis­cus­sion ac­tu­ally has been about trust and whether they can be­lieve what the lead­ers are say­ing. The other thing the kids don’t like is when [politi­cians] don’t talk about what they be­lieve but they spend all their time putting the other peo­ple down. In Grade 5, so­cially that’s kind of an in­ter­est­ing thing with a 10- and 11-year-old. They don’t like that they’re be­ing mean to each other.”

The Stu­dent Vote elec­tions ran be­tween May 31 through to June 6, end­ing just one day be­fore the June 7 elec­tion. The re­sults of the vote will not be avail­able un­til later tonight (Thurs­day).

In the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion, al­most 170,000 stu­dents across On­tario par­tic­i­pated in Stu­dent Vote. Prov­ince-wide, the Lib­eral party claimed the largest vic­tory amongst the young vot­ers, win­ning 62 seats. The NDP fol­lowed with 33, and the Con­ser­va­tives at 11. In the Kitch­ener-Con­estoga rid­ing, it was the Lib­eral can­di­date, Wayne Wright, who was most pop­u­lar amongst the stu­dents, win­ning 388 votes, fol­lowed by the ac­tual win­ner Michael Har­ris with 283.

[FAISAL ALI / THE OB­SERVER]

EDSS and Lin­wood PS were two of the schools in the rid­ing par­tic­i­pat­ing in Stu­dent Vote. Top is Grade 5 stu­dent Blake Frede, who was man­ning the vot­ing booth at Lin­wood PS on Mon­day. Bot­tom left, Ruby Rose hands a fel­low Lin­wood stu­dent her bal­lot. EDSS opened up vot­ing to the en­tire school on Tues­day (bot­tom right).

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