Mobilizing the Youth Vote
Six Events Across the Province Try to Give Young Citizens a Voice in the Upcoming Municipal Elections
Ahead of the Nov. 3 municipal elections taking place throughout Quebec, the province’s regional youth forums, which are funded under the provincial government’s Youth Action Strategy, held events in multiple cities on Oct. 5 to try to mobilize younger voters.
The so-called Vote Camp 2013 events took place in the cities of Montreal, Quebec City, Saguenay, Longueil and Mascouche, but the Montreal, Quebec City and Saguenay proceedings were streamed online as well.
Hugue Mbedi Ebongue, one of the vice-presidents of the Forum jeunesse de l’île de Montréal, told The Link that the Vote Camp events sought to raise awareness among youth of the importance of participating in municipal elections given that municipal governments have a considerable impact on people’s lives.
“It’s why we at the Forum jeunesse de l’île de Montréal thought it was important to bring together young people to reflect on the priorities that we should bring forward, that we should propose to all the political parties, to give youth a voice,” Mbedi Ebongue said. “That’s why we decided to do this, one month before the upcoming elections.”
The Vote Camp events were held in collaboration with Quebec’s chief electoral officer, the province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy, and the city clerk’s office of the participating municipalities.
The turnout was somewhat small in Montreal, where approximately two dozen people joined in on the day’s discussions, which revolved around the election issues that affect youth and how best to mobilize young voters on polling day.
Organizers said a total of about 150 people took part in all of the Vote Camp events, with an additional 400 unique visitors tuning into the video broadcasts on the Internet.
Montreal’s Vote Camp was held within the city council chambers, a room that is normally cordoned off to visitors, giving participants the unique chance to sit in the chairs of their city councillors.
Mbedi Ebongue said he was happy with the turnout, and said the strong online presence revealed the importance of making use of new technologies when reaching out to younger voters.
“It’s the proof that the Internet cannot be disregarded, even in the electoral process,” he said.
A Visit from a Former Student Leader
Léo Bureau-Blouin, who was elected to Quebec’s National Assembly last year at the age of 20 in the riding of Laval-des-Rapides, was at the event in Montreal to give a speech that was broadcasted to the other participating cities.
The Parti Québécois MNA was the president of the student federation representing college students in the province—the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec—during the 2012 student protests.
“I’m very concerned about the place of young people in society, in our democratic institutions,” Bureau-Blouin told The Link. “The municipal political parties know it—that young people don’t participate [in elections]—so sometimes they might be less inclined to put forward projects that are of interest to young people.”
Bureau-Blouin said that low electoral participation by Quebec’s youth creates a “vicious cycle”—when there are fewer topics of interest to young people, they’ll vote less, and if they don’t turn out to vote, then fewer topics will be brought up by the candidates that have the potential to grab their attention in the first place.
“I think the best way to get young people to participate is to have the most initiatives possible like [Vote Camp 2013] to bring them to the ballot box,” he said.
Young People in Municipal Politics
Yves Saindon, the president of elections in the City of Montreal, presented preliminary statistics on the number of people under the age of 35 running in the upcoming municipal elections at Montreal’s Vote Camp.
A finalized tally released on Monday by Élection Montréal notes that 19 per cent of the 485 candidates in the election are under the age of 35. In comparison, 17 per cent of the candidates were under 35 in the 2009 municipal election, and young Montrealers aged 20 to 34 represented 24.2 per cent of the city’s population in 2011, when the latest census was conducted by Statistics Canada.
Following several opening speeches, as well as a pre-recorded message from Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, a panel discussion was held at Montreal’s Vote Camp, looking at how young Montrealers inhabit and interact with their municipality.
The event was meant to be non-partisan; the platforms of different mayoral candidates and specific proposals for change largely weren’t discussed. But smaller group discussions did deal with more specific issues in municipal politics.
At the end of the day, representatives from Quebec City, Saguenay and Montreal summarized what was discussed at each location throughout the day and broadcasted it to the other locations.
In Quebec City, current FECQ president Éliane Laberge said citizens have a responsibility to brainstorm and put forward ideas that can later be adopted by municipal political parties.
Laberge said there are four solutions to the low voter turnout among youth and the entire population more generally: more innovative campaigns raising awareness of the importance of electoral participation; demanding that political parties talk about election issues that have an impact on youth; facilitating exchange between elected officials and citizens, including through online means; and restoring citizens’ confidence in the political process through more transparency in government.
“It’s up to us to put our voices forward,” she said, adding that citizens have a responsibility to put forward the issues that are most important to them in an election campaign.
Speaking from Saguenay, Cynthia Ruest, president of the youth forum in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, said residents, rather than politicians, must demand greater access to information.
She also said another point raised during the day was the need to end the sense of competition between municipalities, with cities instead collaborating with each other on common projects.
In Montreal, the task of relaying information to participants in the other cities was given to Cathy Wong, president of the Conseil des Montréalaises, a women’s council that advises city hall on matters related to gender equality and the status of women.
Wong said one of the key points of the discussions in Montreal was that residents of the city take great pride in its cultural, linguistic, religious, social and economic diversity.
She also said younger residents need to be involved in discussions about the future of their city because it’s not enough to have older elected officials who grew up in the city making decisions on behalf of youth.
“Sometimes, when a young person expresses their ideas to an elected official […] it can be difficult to reconcile their [respective] priorities, because an elected official is thinking about the next four years [before the following municipal election] and not about the next 35 or 50 years,” she said.
Wong said it’s important for events like Vote Camp 2013 to create spaces where young people can come together to reflect on the city they’d like to create.
“We’ve arrived at a moment in time where we have to let young people dream,” she said.
Another Vote Camp event is scheduled for Oct. 16 in St-Jérôme, a suburb north of Montreal.