Students rallying in Hamilton as part of a "vote mob" on Thursday were welcomed into a Conservative Party rally, a move the organizers called a "victory" for youth seeking a voice in the election campaign.
"It represents a victory for the youth that have been turned away from the past events," said Maddie Tye, 21, a co-organizer of the McMaster University rally. "The fact that they let us in today represents that they are listening, they're aware of the student vote."
The Conservatives were accused this week of barring several students from campaign rallies. A University of Western Ontario student was asked by an RCMP officer to leave a rally in London due to Facebook pictures linking her to Liberals.
Then several students were barred from a Conservative rally in Guelph after attending a flash mob dubbed a "vote mob" to encourage youth participation in the election.
Inspired by the Guelph "vote mob," McMaster University students decided to hold a similar non-partisan event on Thursday as both Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff converged on Hamilton.
More 'vote mobs' planned
About half a dozen other universities are planning similar events across the country in hopes of sending the message that young people are voting in the federal election.
Earlier Thursday, Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper apologized to anyone removed from his party's rallies. "If anybody is kept out of any of our events that is there to hear our message, we obviously apologize to them," Harper said in Vaughan, Ont. before a stop in Hamilton.
McMaster University vote mob co-organizer Shanthiya Baheerathan said gaining entry to Harper's event in Hamilton marked a "really big feat."
"I think it shows progression. And definitely I think it shows change because what happened in Guelph didn't happen in Hamilton."
But she said that she felt like the Conservative Party leader still didn't address issues important to youth and was frustrated that he didn't take questions.
"We didn't aim to go in and go stand there. We aimed to go in and show him that we are a political presence," said Baheerathan.
Later Thursday evening, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff held a town hall several blocks away from the Harper event.
Organizers praised both parties for welcoming the student group, but noted differences. At the Ignatieff town hall, only three students were allowed in due to space limitations but they were allowed to ask the leader a question, as were others in the crowd. The Harper rally let all students into the room but kept them separated from the rest of the crowd.
In the end, though, McMaster University vote mob co-organizer Maddie Tye expressed disappointment with another group altogether — the students themselves.
"I'd like to see more students come out," said Tye.
Tye and Baheerathan cobbled together the event on Facebook Thursday night and soon almost 300 people indicated they would attend. But at the height of the "vote mob," only about 50 students took part.
Recruiting students to attend the event was particularly difficult as most are in the midst of exams or deadlines for end-of-term assignments. Tye herself has two major assignments due Friday, but decided the event was an important enough distraction.
"Fifty of us today was great. But we could've been a bigger group, we could've been a bigger voice," said Tye.
"Social media is great in that it informs people but there's a follow-through that needs to happen."