North

Teenagers save the day, staff polling station in small N.W.T. community

A northern community’s potential election-staffing crisis was averted, thanks in part to a group of teens. 

'It's really cool that I did all that for everybody here in Colville,' says Jed Kochon

Teens in Colville Lake, N.W.T., stepped in to operate the local polling station. (Johanna French)

A northern community's potential election-staffing crisis was averted, thanks in part to a group of teens. 

On Friday, Elections Canada was still trying to find people to work the voting station in Colville Lake, N.W.T. The community has a population of 129.

Their saving grace: five high school students — none of legal voting age — agreed to work the polls for their community.  

"Students have really stepped up to the plate," Elections Canada spokesperson Paul Giroux wrote in an email. "This is a civic education experience as they assist electors exercise their right in Colville Lake."

The polling station also has a central poll and supervisor and deputy returning officer, who are not high school students.

Learning the importance of voting

Jed Kochon, 17, says he learned about the role of valid identification at the polls. The election is "fun to learn about," he said, adding he will be more likely to vote in the future.

"It's really cool that I did all that for everybody here in Colville."  

Colville Lake teacher Johanna French was with her students in the community's government office as they checked voter names, made sure people were registered, and set up the polling place.

"They can learn a lot about the importance of the day and how this whole process works and how they can share their voice and their perspective," French said.

There are ten high school students in the community, according to French, and half worked the election. 

Recruiting a challenge this year

All Canadian citizens who are at least 16 years old on election day are able to apply for jobs with Elections Canada, according to its website. Elections Canada spokesperson Nick Gamache says there's been a big push to get young people involved as poll workers, and it's not unusual for young people to take the jobs.

Colville Lake isn't alone in its last minute staffing. Gamache said he's heard from people across the country that recruiting has been even more of a challenge this year — including in the remote concrete wilderness of the Greater Toronto Area. 

"A lot of people [are] dropping out ... ending up the day of, not showing up," he said, adding there aren't many consequences for no-shows. 

Gamache says after the election, Elections Canada will do analysis on why it's been harder to recruit the necessary 300,000 people to work it. 

He said he's hearing two factors have been a bad case of the flu, and a robust job market, meaning some have dropped out when they get more permanent work. 

With all that in mind, Gamache also adds it's never unusual for Elections Canada to be recruiting and training poll workers until the very last minute. In 2015, polls in one hotly-contested riding opened late as workers cancelled on the day of the election

"It's part of the game," he said. "You are working with some limitations and you have to deal with that."

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