Note: Writing this article made me realize how hard it is to find a Canadian flag to take a picture of. Fellow Canadians, we need to get more patriotic!
When many people hear the word “politics”, their eyes start to glaze over and a bit of drool drips out of their mouth. People are simply uninterested in what’s happening on Parliament Hill (for my non-Canadian readers, insert federal government’s office here). Too often, it’s either an issue unrelated to you, or it involves an ridiculous amount of big words that you need to spend the next four hours researching. Short of having a Political Science degree, chances are you will have trouble understanding something you don’t really care about. I see why a lot of people don’t invest in learning about politics.
The problem is that we should care. When elections come around, how do we know who we are going to vote for? Will we even vote? The first time I voted, I’m pretty sure I decided who I would vote for based on who had the coolest name. I had so little knowledge of what stance each party was taking on the big issues, and this stopped me from being able to make an informed decision. The only reason I learnt anything was because I had interview Members of Parliament while working as a reporter at the Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges.
At the last federal election, six out of every 10 Canadians used their right to vote, and that number was much lower for people aged 25 and under. I’m right on that bubble at 24, and I know countless people from my high school who didn’t vote. It may be that they don’t have confidence in any party, or that they don’t know enough about each party’s platform to make a decision. It may even be a silent protest, using their non-vote as a statement. Whatever the reason may be, there a lot of youngsters who aren’t making their voices heard.
There is no way to elect a truly representative government if that many people aren’t voting. It is a problem that has gotten worse at every election. Why is that? Is it because the system doesn’t work? Have people, especially young people, lost confidence in Canada’s political system? Or is it people are not getting the information and understanding required to make an informed decision?
High school history professor Mario Bissonnette has been trying to fix the problem for years.
Bissonnette, a graduate of UQAM and Université de Sherbrooke, has worked in the education sector for nearly 25 years as a teacher and vice-principal. For seven years he was a jury member for the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching History and a member of the Library of Parliament’s Teacher Advisory Committee in Ottawa.
Bissonnette believes in involving youth in the democratic process, and he does so by organizing Youth Parliaments and ensuring his school sends a delegation to the annual event in Quebec City. At the event, they spend several days debating in the National Assembly and learning democratic procedure. He has organized mock elections in Commission scolaire des Trois-Lacs and Lester B. Pearson School Board high schools in his region.
“I asked myself, ‘What could I do as a teacher?’, and I got involved with some organizations which help bring democracy into the classroom and I started organizing electoral simulations,” Bissonnette said in an interview last year. “Every time there was a provincial or federal election, all of my students had to do research on each party and then vote for one.”
Getting the youth involved in politics is Bissonnette’s main goal. He is very concerned with the cynicism that young voters or to-be voters have towards politics. Through education and participation, he believes that the youth will have an invested interest in being involved in Canada’s politics.
“I think not getting the youth involved is a mistake. If people get involved, they can make a huge difference.
“It may be a bit naïve, but I honestly believe that you can change the world with politics, and make a difference in the daily lives of the people. When you explain to people that the decisions of their government have a direct impact on their personal lives, they can relate.”
I took a Political Science class this year called “Introduction to Canadian Politics”. I learnt more about the way our country is run in that course than I did in all of my University, Cegep and high school classes combined. I find that concerning. When I turned 18 and was legally allowed to vote, I had no idea what I was doing. I simply voted for whoever had the coolest name, or who my parents were voting for. It was almost as bad as not voting, because I was not making a decision based on policies or ideologies I believed in.
Bissonnette is attempting to get his students actively involved in politics, in the hopes that they will get to the voting age and have a basic idea of what each party stands for and who they would like to vote for. When I think back, I wish I had learnt more about Canadian politics, so I could have properly contributed as a voting citizen when I was of age. I’m sure high school me would hate that I am suggesting more classes, but it’s information that would actually benefit in the future.
I wasn’t making informed decisions in my voting until I was 22, after forcing myself to learn a bit about each party and their stance on certain issues. I believe initiatives like Bissonette’s will help lower the amount of young voters who get to the polls without a basic understanding of how the system works. I think it’s very important to teach people about politics as soon as possible and to demonstrate the importance and impact of being involved in the process. Democracy only works if everyone is using their voice and are informed about the issues at hand. That is what we need to strive for.
What do you think? Should we teach teenagers in High School about the political system? Vote below.