Last week, we ran an editorial detailing the unnecessary changes that Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, would make to elections in Canada. Also last week, a conservative majority Senate committee unanimously recommended nine major changes to the bill.
These issues are just the tip of the iceberg that is Bill C-23. There are many more problems to the Fair Elections Act lurking beneath the water than what is covered in either last week’s editorial or the Senate committee report. In particular, there is one major issue that the media has been thus far been silent about – the Student Vote program.
Student Vote is a program that runs during election years that helps to engage students not yet eligible to vote (as in underage students) in politics and democracy by running a mock vote parallel to the federal election as it happens.
During the previous federal election, 563,000 elementary and high school students cast mock ballots to elect a Conservative minority government with the NDP as the Official Opposition (interestingly, only slightly different than the results from the real election).
Last week, I learned from my mother, a teacher, that the Fair Elections act would amend Section 18 of the current elections act and put a gag order on the Chief Electoral Officer, limiting the topics on what he can speak to publicly and effectively ending the Student Vote program.
To me, this is a huge deal and I can’t understand why I have not heard more about it. Were my mother not a teacher, I may not have heard about it at all.
Many is the day that I wish I had begun following politics at a younger age and better informed myself.
Unfortunately, my mother was not aware of the program when she was teaching me in high school and I did not have the opportunity to partake, but believe me, I would have.
Even before graduating high school, I quickly learned through my parents the importance of voting, but still did not know much about it. I even abstained from voting in the provincial election that took place in Saskatchewan mere months after I moved away from my home province to begin my post-secondary studies because I did not think I was able to vote as a Saskatchewan resident studying in Alberta. I was unaware of the existence of remote polling stations for voters in situations like mine.
Afterwards, I vowed to vote in every election I was eligible for, and thus far I have. I have voiced my opinion with a ballot in elections for every level from student’s associations to the federal government.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that I would call myself well-informed when it comes to the political sphere and I can never help but think I would be more knowledgeable had I learned more about the political process before I could even vote.
Therefore, I feel any program that encourages youth to vote and gets them interested with politics at a younger age is extremely beneficial.
Thus, I fully support the Student Vote program and cannot support any legislation that hinders it.
The young people of Canada are our future and they will be making decisions about the future of our country through the democratic process and voting. We best teach them how.
Taylor Gunn, president and CEO of CIVIX Canada, the organization that runs the Student Vote program, said the position of CIVIX is that the impact of the Fair Elections Act on Student Vote is an accidental oversight, because why would the government wish to purposely stop youth from learning about their democracy?
Gunn is continuing to work with the government in an attempt to find a solution to this problem. We can only hope he is successful.