Ontario students have their say with parallel vote, electing a majority NDP government

More than 280,000 elementary and high school students made their voices heard in the 2018 Ontario Student Vote, turning out to elect a majority New Democratic Party government.

Student Vote sees NDP walk away with 66 seats, followed by PCs with 45, Liberals with 11, Greens with 2

The students won't be able to vote in real elections until they turn 18, but that didn't stop the young voters from participating in the province-wide program, run by Civix, a national civic education charity that aims to foster active and engaged citizenship among young people. (St. John the Apostle/Twitter)

More than 280,000 elementary and high school students made their voices heard in the 2018 Ontario Student Vote, turning out to elect a majority New Democratic Party government. 

The students won't be able to vote in real elections until they turn 18, but that didn't stop the young voters from participating in the province-wide program, run by Civix, a national civic education charity that aims to foster active and engaged citizenship among young people.

From May 31 until the polls closed at the end of the school day on June 7, students at 2,166 schools representing all 124 ridings had cast ballots in a parallel vote on what is officially election day in the province.

Some teachers participating in the program opted to give students a choice of whether or not to vote, while others had their students participate as a class. Students took on the role of election officials, with the votes counted up by each school and reported to Civix. 

A 'significant' impact on students

As a result of the vote, the NDP walked away with 66 seats, representing 32 per cent of the vote, with leader Andrea Horwath winning in her district of Hamilton Centre.

The Progressive Conservatives become the official opposition, taking 45 seats (27 per cent of the vote) and the Liberals finished third, narrowly hanging on to their official party status with 11 seats (19 per cent of the vote). PC leader Doug Ford hung on to his district of Etobicoke North and Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne lost Don Valley West to that riding's NDP candidate.

What makes this even more incredible is the timing. This is the busiest time of year for schools- Taylor Gunn, President and CEO of Civix 

And the Green Party finished a distant but historic fourth, taking two seats — in Guelph and Parry Sound-Muskoka — with leader Mike Schreiner winning his electoral district of Guelph. That means not one but two Green Party MPPs, shaking up the status quo at Queen's Park, where until today it had no seats.

Of the 280,691 ballots cast, 7,103 students opted to reject their ballots, 2,562 declined theirs and 2,935 left theirs unmarked.

And as for the issues that mattered to student voters, Civix spokesperson Dan Allen told CBC News, the issues were largely the same as those of concern to adults.

"It's getting my friends talking and other people talking about the candidates," said student Tianna McFarland. "Now I feel more prepared to vote since I know how the voting process works, more about the candidates and the parties, and I have my own opinion on things.

It's the fifth time the project has been conducted in Ontario and it's reportedly having a "significant" impact when it comes to cultivating engagement in the civic process, according to an independent evaluation commissioned by Elections Canada. 

"What makes this even more incredible is the timing. This is the busiest time of year for schools with culminating activities, assessments and exams, and more than 5,000 teachers have made citizenship education a priority," said president and CEO of Civix Taylor Gunn.

But it isn't just the students who are being energized by the program. In addition to the 83 per cent of students who said they would vote in the future as part of the evaluation, almost 30 per cent of parents said the program positively affected their decision to vote.

Participation in this year's Student Vote was up 60 per cent compared to the 2014 provincial election, where 173,072 votes were cast across 1,388 schools.  

In that election, students elected a Liberal majority government.