Ontario election 2014: Student Vote an early intro to process

A national charity's Student Vote program hopes a hands-on approach will help get children thinking and talking about politics in the years before they reach voting age.

Schools in all 107 ridings are running mock elections with local candidates

A charity's initiative to hold mock elections in schools across Ontario has kids talking. 2:12

David Addison knows a little bit of what Tim Hudak is going through.

The Grade 7 student at Ottawa's D. Aubrey Moodie Intermediate School was tasked, with a group of classmates, to present the case for the Progressive Conservatives to peers in Grades 6, 7 and 8 earlier this week.

"A lot of people didn't understand [the platform] because of all the attack ads that people have made saying we're going to cut jobs," he said.

"It was really hard to inform them about it because they didn't trust us."

Teacher Allison Fuisz said she got her French Immersion students to learn about and present the platforms of the five parties running in the school's riding: the Greens, Liberals, Libertarians, New Democrats and PCs.

All the better to prepare them for their mock vote on Tuesday in the school's library, complete with student volunteers to check names off the voter list and make sure ballots were folded correctly.

"It's authentic learning, it's something that's tangible, it's something they can grasp," Fuisz said.

"Nothing is better than learning in the moment... I feel like it's really getting into what we want to do to achieve excellence for our kids."

200,000 students will vote

D. Audrey Moodie is one of more than 1,600 schools in all of Ontario's 107 ridings participating in Student Vote, a program run by a charity called Civix.

Civix communications director Dan Allen said Student Vote hopes to get young Canadians used to participating in the democratic process before they're legally allowed to vote.

"By the time they turn 18 and can vote they will vote because they already know how everything works," he said.

"We just try to counter one of the obstacles of voting: that people don't know how everything works and by showing how elections in Ontario work that removes that obstacle."

While they don't have to take it as far as Fuisz did with her mock campaign pitches, Allen said Civix does provide teachers with tools to learn about voting and the different parties.

In all, around 200,000 students will participate in Student Vote this campaign, the fourth time it's been held in Ontario.

Allen said they've also done each federal election since 2004 and many elections in other provinces too.

Students say knowledge leaks outside class

Students at D. Audrey Moodie said they're feeling much more knowledgeable about this campaign than other provincial elections.

"It wasn't something that I really cared about at the time (the election was called) so this told me everything I needed to know," said Addison

Teacher Allison Fuisz said children need to be confortable forming and voicing their opinion before they turn 18. (CBC)
"You're amazed at how many students have embraced the political process and (are) learning things on their own, you definitely hear more accountable talk in the classroom because of this," Fuisz said.

Some even said they're teaching their parents a thing or two when the election comes up.

"My dad's like, 'Really? I guess I have to do a little more research on that,' and I said, 'I can tell you, I figured it all out in class,'" said Grade 8 student Sierra Banks.

"We can talk about the pros and cons of each party whereas before I didn't really have an opinion… now I can carry on a long conversation with them," said Grade 7 student Gianna Cox.

Those who talked to CBC News said they feel that if they can take the time to educate themselves on the parties and make an informed vote, people who can legally cast a ballot shouldn't waste the opportunity.

"They say that we're less mature and stuff, but if you're mature enough then why don't you do it?" said Addison.

Student Vote results on a school and province-wide basis will be released at 9 p.m. Thursday, just as polls close on the real thing.

About the Author

Andrew Foote

CBC Reporter

Andrew Foote has been with the CBC since February 2013 after graduating from Carleton University. He can be reached at andrew.foote@cbc.ca or @amkfoote on Twitter.