Kitchener-Waterloo

Youth vote campaigns target Waterloo students

The Future Majority and Student Vote campaigns are aimed at highlighting the issues important to university and college students while also encouraging them to vote. Local organizers say students understand why it's important to vote.

Students may be disillusioned but they know it's important to vote, says Kirsten Neil

Students line up at a polling station at Ryerson University in Toronto during the 2015 election. (Marta Iwanek/The Canadian Press)

Kirsten Neil hopes to encourage students at the Doon campus of Conestoga College to vote in this fall's federal election.

She's with Future Majority, a group that is focused on "mobilizing young Canadians" to vote on October 21.

Neil, a University of Waterloo graduate, is working for the group on the college campus and has spent the first weeks of school speaking with students about voting. This year, like in 2015, there will be polls on campus and she says that is a relief to students.

They tell her "oh my gosh, that's super cool. I can literally just go for my coffee and go vote."

Their concerns in this election aren't far off those of other voters, Neil says. Students are worried about the environment. They're concerned about their futures — being able to find a job after school, a place to live and pay off their debt.

"They're not kids anymore," she said, noting students also recognize they soon won't be covered under their parents' or the school's medical or dental plans.

'New generation of engaged citizens'

At the University of Waterloo, the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA), formerly the Federation of Students, has signed a joint letter to federal party leaders asking them to address a number of student concerns.

Those include the rising costs of education, funding work-integrated learning opportunities and increasing support for Indigenous students and communities.

"Students are committed voters answering the call for a new generation of engaged citizens concerned about their future," WUSA vice president Matthew Gerrits said in a news release. 

The letter is part of a movement called Students Vote, which is focused on getting student and education concerns in front of federal parties.

Kirsten Neil of Future Majority, left. stands with Conestoga College nursing student Lauren Filbey. Future Majority is working to get college and university students out to vote in the federal election. (Kirsten Neil/Submitted photo)

A blip or something more?

Statistics Canada reported the voting rate saw an increase of seven percentage points in the 2015 election over the 2011 election.

The rate increased faster with younger voters than older ones, the report noted, and young people with a higher level of education were more likely to vote than those who were less educated.

But Barry Kay isn't sure those numbers were part of a trend. Instead, the associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University calls 2015 a blip.

"[Liberal Leader Justin] Trudeau certainly generated enthusiasm, especially among younger people," Kay said of the 2015 campaign. 

This time, Kay said he expects to see "very negative campaigning" by the parties.

"That tends to turn off marginal voters that aren't all that committed anyway. So the one prediction I will make is there will be fewer Canadians voting this time than last time," he said.

But Neil says she's seeing a different picture on Conestoga's campus.

"What we're seeing is that young people are actually incredibly engaged and there's a lot of really big issues that are kind of coming to the forefront and are really worrying young people," she said.

"So even though they may be a little bit disillusioned with politics and politicians, they're seeing that it's a really, really important time to actually get out there and vote."

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