Selkirk College Nursing Program student Suzanne Larocque’s frustration with Canadian politics has led her to take action through an awareness campaign.
Starting Friday, Larocque will be setting up a voter registration booth on the Castlegar Campus to encourage her fellow students to make a difference by heading to polling stations in the upcoming federal election. The third-year student will be setting up five times in total during March.
“From the discussions I have had with individuals since starting this project, I found that most are angry with Canada’s government,” says Larocque. “They also have little understanding of each political platform and truly believe that their vote will not matter, since none of the parties or politicians can be trusted in the first place. This was sad to hear, but is something I can relate to.”
Larocque started the project because she is interested in the political aspect of nursing and how political involvement affects the health of communities. Using it as her semester practice placement, Larocque has built on research compiled by fourth-year nursing students Megan Hansen and Paula Gilberd who conducted a survey within Selkirk College and completed an extensive literature review.
“They found that hosting registration booths on campus would be a great way to increase voter turnout on Election Day,” says Larocque, who is originally from Mission, B.C. “In fact, their research showed that being registered to vote increased a person’s likeliness to cast a ballot by 30 per cent, so this seemed like a good place to start. Megan and Paula compiled some great information and suggestions on how to move forward with the project, which made whole thing possible.”
Based on her own research and that of her Nursing Program peers, Larocque says the two main reasons why youth don’t vote is a lack of political knowledge and a disconnect with the traditional political process. That’s not to say young people are not interested in making their vote count.
“Youth are overwhelmed and discouraged, but they are certainly not apathetic,” she says. “In fact, youth are highly political and become involved in political issues through petitions, blogs and rallies, but simply avoid Canada’s mainstream systems. Party websites are not easy to follow if you are looking for facts, plans or statistics. Instead, the websites are thick with propaganda promoting general ideas rather than actual facts or plans. Youth are smart, they are constantly in connection with massive amounts of information and can tell when they are being manipulated or mislead, so they choose not to engage.”
Post-secondary students have a lot to gain by taking an interest in how decisions are made provincially and federally. Issues like tuition fees, access to quality health care and minimum wage are just a few issues where young people could use a stronger voice. Larocque feels that the education system and general treatment of politics in Canadian society has not done much to inspire engagement.
“Many youth don’t understand how our government works and this makes them cautious about proceeding with the voting process,” says Larocque. “Canada has become so obsessed with avoiding conflict that we often avoid discussing politics or religion for fear of sparking a heated debate. This lack of exposure has damaged youth. They hear almost nothing of politics as they are growing up and then all of sudden they turn 18 and are expected to help shape Canada through a system they do not understand.”
Larocque will be set up in The Pit on the Castlegar Campus starting March 13 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. She will then continue with the voter registration booth on March 18 (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), March 19 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), March 23 (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and March 25 (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Students require their social insurance number (SIN) and proof of current address to register.
The next federal election is scheduled for October 19, 2015 and Larocque wants to start conversations now that will lead to better voter turnout amongst youth come autumn.
“I hope to take a small step toward reconnecting youth with Canada’s democratic process,” she says. “It’s not about the number of people who register through my booths. I will be satisfied if a few individuals start to think more about how their participation can shape Canada’s future for the better. Youth are powerful, smart and passionate; I want them to know that Canada will be a better place with their involvement.”
You can learn more about Elections Canada online at elections.ca.