How to get a young Quebecer to vote

Mock the clichés. Knock on doors. Apply peer pressure.

If voting were graded, Quebec youth, like that of much of the rest of Canada, would fail. Between the mid 1980s and 2008, voter turnout amoung 18 to 24-year-olds dropped by nearly 30 percent in La Belle Province, down to around 36 per cent four years ago from 64 per cent in 1985. Here and everywhere else, these are the kind of numbers that ensure the headlines before any election fill with high-minded exhortations and op-eds lecturing the incurably lazy teen-to-twentysomethings. Quebecers, though, have been looking for unconventional ways to fix the problem.

The chief electoral officer, student groups and non-profits are going back to the drawing board and sketching out new ideas to shake up the youngsters that go beyond the predictable Facebook and Twitter campaigns. Here’s a look at our favourites:

  • Straight talk:

The Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec and L’Institut du Nouveau Monde have teamed up to produce a series of YouTube videos that parody traditional electoral ads aimed at youth. The videos are part of a campaign called “We are two million, go vote” — the two million being Quebec voters under 35.

In the first of three videos, released on Tuesday, Quebec actor Rémi-Pierre Paquin starts by spitting out irksome clichés such as, “you are the future.” But he and other prominent Quebec figures — including comedian Eddy King and media personality Rebecca Makonnen — quickly become frustrated, and decide to go off script. Watch:

Their approach seems to be working. The video received over 27,000 views the first day alone and more than double that in the last three days.

  • Hit the road:

For the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, the road to youth mobilization is paved with good intentions as well as an obvious political agenda. With nearly 2,000 volunteers registered with the FEUQ alone, the student groups started canvassing at the 25 ridings where the Liberals won by a small margin in 2008. Last Sunday, they held a BBQ in Sherbrooke, where youth 18-35 make up 25 per cent of the voting population, according to Martine Desjardins, FEUQ leader. Of course, this also happens to be the Jean Charest’s riding.

Still, Desjardins insists the FEUQ and FECQ’s campaigns are meant to encourage youth to go vote rather than vote for a particular party. They even invited Charest, along with representatives from the different political parties, to the event. All showed up except for one. Guess who.

(In the coming weeks, there will also be a special edition of the FEUQ’s journal, Student Voice, which will outline the various political groups’ platform on issues like tuition hikes, government corruption and daycare – a hot topic for students who also double as parents. Twitter debates with young voters and guest spots on Quebec media are in the works, as well. So is a potential TV gig, but the details are hush hush. At least for now.)

  • Steer up some peer pressure:

Apathy is Boring, a Montreal-based non-profit, is trying to motivate the the ballot box-shy by teaming up with community-based organizations that already have established links with youth. This approach is based on a survey of roughly 1,000 young people and about 20 community groups that Apathy is Boring and Elections Canada conducted in Toronto during the 2010 municipal elections. “We found that one of the number of things that will get a young person to vote is having somebody ask them [to do so],” says Ilona Dougherty, co-founder and executive director of Apathy is Boring. If you’re roommate votes, you’re about 60 per cent more likely to vote, she adds.

That logic is consistent with other initiatives the organization’s been promoting for years like the Facebook event “I am a voter.” That seemed to work out quite well. When “I am a voter” was launched during last year’s federal elections, 250,000 youth invited their friends to pledge to vote.

With so many initiatives in the works and months of student protests prior to the election call, there’s really no excuse for voter turnout amoung youth to receive less than a passing grade this time around.

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