It’s not hard to find a student at SMUS eager to cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t of legal voting age in Canada so their vote won’t be counted by Elections Canada.
Instead, SMUS students from Grades 6-12 will participate in Student Vote Canada, a parallel election experience for students too young to vote. Student Vote is run like a real election: schools act as polling stations and students vote for real candidates running in the school’s riding.
“I’m really happy that SMUS is having the election. I think that will help get people interested and show students why politics is important,” says Grade 12 student Kate O’Connor, who is co-head of the Politics Club.
This week, Kate and fellow co-head Logan Wang moderated a political forum for Middle and Senior School students to hear from some of the candidates vying to become the Member of Parliament in the Victoria riding. Students as young as 10 years old filed into the Chapel and spent their lunch hour listening to the candidates speak.
Afterwards, candidates met with Grade 6 students who are right now learning about governance and democracy in their Humanities classes.
“The election is the end game in terms of understanding how democracy works in our country,” says Middle School Humanities teacher Jane Rees. Using novels and current events, students are learning how people all over the world have different experiences than that of Canadians based on their forms of government.
“They learned about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms this week and understand that only people who are 18 and older can vote in Canada,” Jane says. “But what’s more important is for them to learn that we need to value democracy in our country and how being informed and engaged citizens is important here.”
The lunchtime forum was a great way for students of all ages to meet their potential Member of Parliament and ask questions that relate to issues they care about.
“[Logan and I] came up with questions that pertain to students so they’d be interested in the answers,” Kate says. “I find a lot of students have strong opinions on certain issues like the climate crisis or unemployment, but they don’t like the word ‘politics’. Our goal [with the Politics Club] this year is to have students talking about issues we care about.”
The moderators asked candidates about climate change, the cost of post-secondary education and artificial intelligence. Other topics raised while at SMUS included the opioid crisis, what differentiates the parties from one another and lowering the voting age.
Given the level of political interest on campus, there is an appetite from many people to see the voting age lowered.
“As we go through our last years of high school deciding what we want to study, we should be able to have more of a say in our future,” Kate says. “The decisions politicians are making now are going to affect us when we’re old enough to vote. A lot of young people are frustrated, especially about climate change, and even though at election time we can volunteer, campaign and talk to the people in our lives who can vote, I think if we could vote we would feel like our voice was being heard.”
For now, however, Student Vote Canada will be the best opportunity for students to formally have a say in the election. The hope is that political parties use the results of the student election to inform their future priorities; priorities that the next generation of voters take seriously.
“Being engaged in circumstances and issues at a young age helps them be engaged when they’re older,” Jane says. “Students of a young age have informed opinions and can make choices that are important to them.”