If the students she represents at Okanagan College had as much passion for the election process as Chelsea Grisch, voter turnout amongst students wouldn’t be a problem.
Engaged in the election and passionate about the student vote, Grisch, 25, and the rest of the Okanagan College Students’ Union (OCSU) have been working hard to try and get students motivated to vote in this year’s federal election.
“We’re just reminding people that the youth demographic has low voter turnout which is pretty appalling,” said Grisch, the chairperson of the OCSU. “This (election) is not something that has to be determined by old men essentially. Youth are empowered (to make change). We’re just reminding people that all over the world people die for the right to vote. It’s a big deal and if you like complaining about the country, the back end of that is you’re socially obligated to vote.”
The movement at Okanagan College to try and engage young voters is taking place at post secondary institutions across the country. Online the Canadian Federation of BC Students has a campaign underway asking students to pledge to vote with the tag line This Time We Decide (thistimewedecide.ca). And it’s not just students. Noted comedian Rick Mercer has taken to Facebook to push voting at votenation.ca while Canadian musicians are attempting to rally the vote by promoting #imagineoct20, an online movement asking for change that has included a few concerts.
All of these are aimed at getting non-traditional voters out of their malaise and to the polling station. It mirrors the efforts of the Okanagan College Students’ Union in its attempts to get students to care about federal politics at a time in their life when many of them are not only in school but also working one or two jobs to help with tuition.
To make it easier and less time-consuming, the OCSU is hoping a unique candidate’s meet and greet on Oct. 14 that will allow students the opportunity to have their questions answered and get involved in the political process.
Instead of hosting an all-candidates’ forum as they did in 2011, the OCSU has invited each candidate from the two local ridings to an open house style gathering and as of this week, all seven candidates from the Kelowna-Lake Country and Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola ridings had confirmed attendance, according to executive director Brianne Berchowitz.
It won’t be your typical forum where candidates introduce themselves and pledge party promises. Instead it will give students a chance to ask their own questions and take as much, or little time as necessary.
“We’re hoping to get community members engaged instead of doing a forum that doesn’t allow students to ask questions they want to ask,” said Herchowitz. “This is more of a meet and greet with some information tables so students can pick up some information and ask a question over maybe five minutes as opposed to a couple of hours.”
For Chelsea Grisch, getting students engaged in the political process is an interesting conundrum. Her peers, she says, are a very political generation. They are opinionated and also open to hearing both sides of the story. However their personal philosophy hasn’t translated to votes when it comes to election-time.
This time—with the help of student organizations pushing the envelope—she hopes it will be different.
“My generation has very pronounced opinions on things and often will go and do the research to back their opinions up,” she said. “We’re a very political generation but very politically detached. I do think if we can get those kids voting, there will be a bit of a demographic shift. Especially as the political climate has changed. This election is going to be so close. I think the youth will come out. I think it will be higher than it has been due to the mobilization of the student organizations.”
The Okanagan College Students Union meet and greet with the federal candidates is Oct. 14 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Centre for Learning Atrium at the Kelowna OC campus.