Government, campus groups push to engage young voters

'We are campaigning to show that student issues are municipal election issues' 

DSU vice president- academic and external, Amina Abawajy, is campaigning to increase young voter turnout this election.
DSU vice-president academic and external, Amina Abawajy, is campaigning to increase young voter turnout this election.   Eleanor Davidson

With municipal election day less than a week away, the Halifax Regional Municipality is working to engage young voters.

The municipality is using social media to reach out to younger voters with a campaign called Halifax Votes Because, which challenges them to submit a video about why they plan to vote and to post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

The campaign has received dozens of submissions, ranging from sincere to cynical.

“I vote to ensure that our city continues to be somewhere I am proud to call home!” posted Twitter user Freda Maria, while Russell Gragg wrote: “I voted because … otherwise we might get saddled with four more convention centres!”

This focus on younger voters stems from a poor turnout in the last municipal election. In 2012, only eight per cent of eligible voters between the ages of 20 and 29 cast ballots. Compared with 37 per cent overall turnout that year, young people in Halifax were poorly represented.

In the lead-up to this election, there has been a push not only to encourage young people to vote, but to inform them about how municipal politics affect their day-to-day lives. Affordable housing, an improved transit system, food security: These municipal issues all have a direct impact on youth.

“It is a challenge in any level of government to reach out and engage youth in elections, and hopefully this time around we can have some initiatives that will appeal to a younger audience,” says Adam Richardson, a spokesperson for the city of Halifax.

Richardson says many students do not know if they are eligible to vote, due to changes in address, out-of-province hometowns or summers spent away from Halifax.

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“There was a lot of hype around the federal election, and students were able to easily make the connection, whereas municipal is blurrier about which issues fall under the municipal umbrella as opposed to provincial or federal,” says Amina Abawajy, vice-president academic and external for the Dalhousie Student Union.

“We are campaigning to show that student issues are municipal election issues.”

The student union has partnered with the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Federation of Students to reach out to students on campuses all over the province. Their main initiative, Generation Vote, focuses on five key issues: Affordable housing, fair wages, food security, arts and culture and public transportation.

Amina Abawajy and Charlotte Kiddell are working to educate young voters about municipal issues.
Abawajy and Charlotte Kiddell of the Canadian Federation of Students are working to educate young voters about municipal issues.   Eleanor Davidson

Generation Vote’s goal is to help students understand how municipal politics can have a direct impact on their lives. These five issues relate directly to realities that many students face each day.

Charlotte Kiddell, chairperson of CFS-NS, gives the example of a lack of food security at the University of King’s College.

She says she was working at King’s, outside the cafeteria, when students came out with bags full of fruit taken from the cafeteria.

“So I told them, ‘students need food security so that they don’t have to just steal food from their cafeteria to get by. This is not what food security looks like for students.’ They wanted to talk about food security and pledge to vote for candidates who would prioritize food security so they don’t have to steal bananas from the cafeteria.”

Advance polls opened on Oct. 8 and election day is Oct. 15. E-voting is available until Oct. 13. Have questions about voting? Contact the Halifax Elections voter helpline at (902) 490-8683.   

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