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Look to Scandinavia for engaging youth vote: forum

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Denmark, Norway and Sweden may hold the key in getting more young Canadians to vote, a forum on youth apathy heard Wednesday.

University of Montreal political scientist Henry Milner told students at Windsor Park Collegiate  Scandinavian and other European countries are better at teaching young people citizenship than Canada and the United States.

"They all are saying that they have to work hard to make sure that young people of this new generation are continue to vote and participate as previous generations," Milner said. "Even though they’ve had higher participation than we’ve had over the last few years, they’re still making a significant effort for it to continue."

The numbers speak for themselves:One study found the average turnout rate of all voters in the 15 European countries is 88.6 per cent while the turnout for voters 18 and 29 years old is 80.9 per cent.

Voter turnout in Monday’s federal election saw 61.4 per cent of eligible Canadians cast a ballot, up only slightly from 58.8 per cent in the 2008 federal election. Final numbers on an age-breakdown of voters won’t be available for a while, but many expect it won’t vary much from the results in 2008: only 37.4 per cent of Canadians between 18 and 24 years old voted in that year.

Milner, author of Internet Generation: Engaged Citizens or Political Dropouts, said many European countries use technology, such as more advanced versions of CBC’s Vote Compass, to get young people interested in politics. Civic education is also compulsory in schools and taught by teachers trained in citizenship and responsibility. Teaching young people about voting also includes state-funded election simulations that touch almost every student at some point.

The event was part of the University of Manitoba’s series of Understanding the Manitoba Election forums leading up to the Oct. 4 provincial election. The goal of the series is to get more people engaged. The next event is June 14 at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café to deal with the media’s role in elections.

Milner said despite recent low turnout in Canadian elections, there is the beginning of change through social media and groups such as Apathy is Boring to increase voter participation. Elections Canada and Elections Manitoba also offer programs to teach young people and others, such as recent immigrants, about the voting process.

"But just because you say publicly you have to do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the method and the instruments of actually accomplishing it," Milner said. "We also have to be sure that it goes beyond the usual young people who are already there. That’s hard and it’s often not fun, because those young people are not all that interested."

Windsor Park Collegiate students Jordan Mackay and Aidan Ramsay said they understand why it’s vital they vote — Ramsay voted for the first time Monday. The Free Press is following Mackay, Ramsay and fellow students Andrea Martinez, Matthew Landry and Jennifer Bales in the lead-up to the Oct. 4 election.

"It was a lot quicker than I thought," Ramsay said of Monday’s vote. "I thought it would be so long. I thought there would be lineups."

Mackay said young people have to start voting more so politicians pay more attention to them.

"I think it’s got to be the connection they make with younger people," Mackay said. "A lot of young people are interested in voting, they’re just not getting the return value. They’re not getting anything back if they do go out and vote."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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