Thousands of St. Albert-area students went to the polls last week to cast mock ballots in the 2021 federal election.
Students at 24 St. Albert schools set up polling stations and marked ballots in the week before Sept. 20 (the actual date of the federal election) as part of the 2021 Student Vote campaign.
Student Vote is an event run by Elections Canada and CIVIX that has students learn about the electoral process to get them interested in voting as adults, said Paul Kane teacher Brandon Andreychuk, who has co-ordinated four Student Vote events in his career. Students learn about party platforms, watch debates, and run mock elections using their region’s actual candidates.
“It ends up being a really interesting exercise in democracy,” Andreychuk said, and encourages students to vote for real when they come of age.
Andreychuk said this year’s Student Vote was a challenge due to the extra-short campaign and the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which kept his students from hosting the usual in-school candidate forums. They also had to print their own ballots, as Canada Post wasn’t able to ship them ballots on time.
“We certainly had to streamline our approach, but it didn’t seem to diminish the excitement,” Andreychuk said, adding that Paul Kane may even have seen record turnout this year.
The youth vote
Statistics Canada reports that the 18-to-24 age group had the lowest voter turnout for federal elections from 2011 to 2019, with just 55 to 68 per cent voting, compared to 79 to 86 per cent in the 55+ cohort. Youth turnout may be on the rise, however — turnout in the 18-to-24 cohort climbed 13 per cent between 2011 and 2019.
Paul Kane students seemed pretty keen to vote Sept. 16, piling into the school’s lounge, drama room, and cafeteria to cast their ballots.
Grade 11 student Aicha Bah said most of her peers weren’t too interested in the federal election, which seems like a foreign topic to them. She is interested in politics, though, and was hired as a poll worker for the Sept. 20 vote.
Grade 12 student Lauren Friesen said she has been following the national debates in the lead-up to the Student Vote.
“I thought they really targeted Justin Trudeau,” she said of the party leaders in the debates, and spent too little time talking about their own positions.
Bah said environmental issues are important to her this election, and that she wants to see parties invest in renewable energy and retraining efforts to help oil workers find green jobs. She also wants leaders to get more Indigenous voices into leadership.
“It’s their land as well, and we have been ignoring what they’ve been saying for so long,” she said.
Bah said people should vote in elections because the winners will set the policies that affect our lives — including COVID-19 health measures.
Friesen said those who can vote, should, if only to stand up for the interests of youths and others not able to vote.
“If [the leaders] are going to be in for the next four years, we might as well have some say.”
NDP candidate Kathleen Mpulubusi won the St. Albert–Edmonton Student Vote race with 42 per cent of the vote — something of a mirror-image to the actual 2021 federal election results, which saw Conservative candidate Michael Cooper win the day with about 48 per cent of the vote.
Reached for comment Sept. 21, Mpulubusi said it was great to hear she had won the Student Vote. She said the results showed how the NDP’s focus on improving the lives of students through policies such as student-loan forgiveness resonated with youth.
“They’re the ones who are really truly going to be inheriting the effects of climate change,” she said, and they can see a need for change in how we govern in order to address it.
“We have to focus on looking after people and having policies that look at looking after people, rather than looking after business.”