London’s 2014 Fall Election: Youth Involvement in Politics

The City of London welcomed its newly-elected Council on Monday, December the 1st, with an Inaugural Meeting which took place at the London Convention Centre.  Prior to this election, we noticed that several of the candidates running were much younger than those who typically take the roles of Council (many under the age of forty). Amir Farahi, a London Youth Advisory Council alumnus of only nineteen years of age, was at the centre of the LYAC’s discussion on October the 23rd. He has been able to shift the public’s view on young people, proving that a young Londoner can run his or her own campaign successfully. Why aren’t more youth running for Council in their municipal governments? Why aren’t more young people turning out to vote?

Who Should Read This?

  • People concerned with London’s future
  • People who doubt that a young person is capable of becoming a city councillor
  • People who do take the time to vote, but more importantly, people who do not
  • People who feel as though their city could or should undergo changes
  • People who are interested in making a difference in their community

 A Note About Our Reports

LYAC reports are a different kind of report. They are conversational, friendly and honest. These reports don’t try to trick you by using complicated language or pretend to be based on the opinions of experts. They are based on the best information that the Youth Councillors have at the time of each discussion. We hope that the reports make you think, make you act and challenge you to consider things that you haven’t considered before. Share your opinions with us so that we can represent you better!

Is Age Just A Number?

Young people are sometimes not seen as experienced citizens; we are not always considered capable or perhaps mature enough to have responsibility over major policies. A youth may hear something of this sort (such as “wait your turn”) and this may prevent them from wanting to become involved with politics because they may start to believe it themselves. Each demographic has their own needs, wants, and their own perspectives (even seven and eight year olds) so they should all be represented in government. There was a time when we as a society did not think women should be allowed to vote. With that in mind, is there potential to have a 10 year olds present in politics instead of having 50 year olds making decisions that will affect them directly?

Olivia believes that 10 year olds need to have their own voices. She says that they could start in their schools by becoming involved in Student Parliament, for example. One of our volunteers thinks that residents must be older to vote because then they would be more socialized and they would have a better understanding of the system.

Olivia admitted that she tuned out during the election campaign as a whole, but she was interested and followed Amir’s campaign because he is young and almost the same age as she is. Young people need other young people to look up to as role models. Since there are not as many youth represented in our municipal government, others do not have someone to look up to and who they can follow in the footsteps of.

Weak Youth Turnout at the Polls                              

Matt started the conversation by describing an experiment he was working on to get more people out to the polls. His idea was to pick one polling district (the one with the lowest voting turnout) and to drop letters with a reminder to vote in that specific region to see if that would increase the number of people going out to vote. Because of Amir’s campaigning in Ward 6, where the University of Western Ontario is located, Adam (one of Amir’s campaign managers) mentioned that a lot more younger people voted because there was more awareness for the election since they knew Amir, a university student just like them, was campaigning.

A councillor mentioned that a lot of times younger people need a “proof of address” before they are allowed to vote and that some who do not have it do not make the effort to go and get it. There are 10,000 students* who are NOT on the voting list, many of whom are not likely London residents but are just studying at the University. This year, there were a reduced number of polling stations, also possibly influencing the number of those that go out to vote. Another reason we thought of for why youth are not going out to vote is that a lot of advanced polling stations and times were reduced, taking away another convenient way to vote because not everyone is able to make it out to vote on the exact voting date.

Adam told us that while he and Amir campaigned at Western University, there were also several obstacles. Western professors and school officials told Amir he would only be allowed to campaign on residence between 4:30 and 8:00 pm. With some personal experience, many have said that Western University as a whole is a very controlled space and is a part of its own “bubble”. It remains in some ways isolated from the rest of the city and it puts up its own sort of barrier, making it hard to get the attention of some students.

A Connection to the Shooting in Ottawa

We soon found ourselves mentioning the issues that we had not heard much about during the debates the candidates gave throughout their campaign. Much was debated on the topic of job creation and growth but not as much time was spend discussing these:

  • Social issues such as homelessness
  • Crime such as that pertaining to students
  • Bullying

Wadhah spoke very passionately about how bullying in the life of a child can lead to drastic decisions later in their lives. He also spoke of children who are brought up in certain areas where there is violence and other crimes that those children are more likely to grow up and do the same.

At this point, Adam stopped to say that this eerily reminded him of the situation in Ottawa, where an armed shooter killed one of the officers on duty in front of Parliament Hill. Jess then filled us in: the gunman spoke to his mother for the first time in 5 years the week that he shot the officer. His mother said he was desperate, that he wanted to receive a passport and flee the country. Jess said that what people go through, they mostly go through on their own but there are many who need help (yet sometimes there may be no one there for them). This mirrors Wadhah’s example of kids who go out to do things like steal out of desperation. These kids go through with it likely because they do not have anyone to stop them from doing so.  Wadhah then used an analogy to explain how people generally only ever talk about the avalanche and not the snowball that caused it, just like people in this case only spoke about the gunman and most do not wonder or care what it was that lead him to do it. Jess says that there should be more education and investment into mental health organizations to help people through tough times.

Personal Stories

Wadhah told us about this young boy he was mentoring. He said that while they were recycling at school, the boy asked him something very insightful. He asked why we bother to throw things out in the garbage because doing so is the same as littering. Garbage goes to a dump where it is collected and thrown altogether; it just cannot be seen the same way that littering on a city street is seen. Insight and comments like these are smart and children have many ideas that could be incorporated into government, if only someone would listen.

Adam explained to us how he first heard about the shooting that occurred in Ottawa. He was at a location which had many televisions around the room. Only one screen was broadcasting the news live from Ottawa, the others were showing a soccer match. Adam said that barely anyone was watching the news because they were all too focused on the game to notice. This shocked him and it shocked many of us as well.

Anooshae had a personal connection, telling us about how frightened she was for her friends at the University of Ottawa (which was under lockdown). Steve, a volunteer, is from Hamilton, the hometown of the officer who was shot. He said it really hit close to home as the man, soldier Nathan Cirillo, was a second degree friend. Steve said tragic events like these bring people together but unfortunately what drives someone to commit an act like this is the lack of exactly this feeling of belonging.

Big Questions

Here are some of the big questions we discussed that remain open for debate:

  • Why aren’t young people more interested in running for positions in government?
  • How can we engage more young people and encourage them to vote?
  • How can the voting process become more convenient?

Recorder’s Notes

I am not yet old enough to vote but soon enough I will be. I feel as though there is not enough knowledge and information about the voting process and elections. In civics class, we were not taught anything of voting and why it is important. Instead, there was a much greater focus on the past and on memorizing who holds which position. There was also a greater time spent on learning about the federal government, when time should also be spent learning about our municipal government. There needs to be an organization that starts a movement to educate not only the youth but everyone about voting.

What We Still Need to Learn          

  • What computer systems are used while the voting process takes place?
  • What training do those in charge of the votes for the election have?
  • Structurally, is there a better or faster way to add people to the voting list?