Engagement leads to involvement

Taylor Gunn
Photo credit: Marnie Burkhart - Jazhart Studios

Canadians elected a new federal government on October 19, 2015 and, impressively, voter turnout increased from the last election to 68 per cent. A crucial factor in determining voter turnout is voter engagement. Engagement in the democratic process is a habit that is most often developed from a young age and over time.

CIVIX is a nonprofit working in the area of democratic engagement for young people. A non-partisan, national registered charity, CIVIX is building the skills and habits of citizenship among young Canadians. The organization’s President and CEO Taylor Gunn believes that “young Canadians need and deserve a solid base of interest, knowledge and experience to inspire their citizenship. Without it, they will continue to stay away from political participation, public policy and voting. With it, they will determine the future of Canadian democracy.”

The organization was profiled in the 2015 Vital Signs Report. Their vision is to encourage a strong and inclusive Canada where all young people are ready, willing and able to contribute to the future of their country. CIVIX provides experiential learning opportunities to help young Canadians practice their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Instead of studying about democracy, students experience it first-hand with pertinent issues in real-time.

The Calgary Foundation spoke with Gunn in early August before the election. “I work with teachers across Canada to build the skills and habits of citizenship within young Canadians. I know that engaged teachers engage their students. We see it first-hand every single day,” Gunn said. This election we’re trying something different: training teachers to improve their own democratic engagement and to improve their ability to deliver our Student Vote program in schools. Three hundred teachers will join us at the first ever Democracy Bootcamp: Calgary this fall—quite possibly creating the first city in Canada to ensure that every school is putting democracy on the curriculum during an election campaign. For our democracy, it doesn’t get more exciting than this.”

The organization conducted a Student Vote program in parallel with the 2015 election. Elementary and high school students learned about the electoral process, engaged in the campaign and casted ballots for official local candidates. During this last election, more than 900,000 students cast a Student Vote ballot, representing 6,500 schools from all 338 ridings. Like adults, they elected a Liberal majority with a Conservative official opposition. View the full results here: http://studentvote.ca/results/