OTTAWA -- Young people are interested in politics and elections, they just aren't given enough tools and knowledge to get involved, Canada's chief electoral officer said Wednesday.
Marc Mayrand is meeting with various youth groups this week as part of Election Canada's first Democracy Week. It coincides today with the United Nations' International Democracy Day.
"We're talking and celebrating democracy outside of all things political," said Mayrand.
One of Elections Canada's mandates is to improve voter engagement and voter turnout. A little more than 61 per cent of voters cast a ballot in the May 2 federal election, slightly higher than the historic low of 58 per cent in 2008.
Mayrand wants Canadians to think this week about how democracy has influenced their lives and remind them democracy belongs to them.
With five provincial and territorial elections underway and a sixth starting in just weeks, there is no better time.
Tuesday, Mayrand kicked off a contest urging Canadians between 14 and 30 to express what democracy means to them in a tweet, blog, video or photo.
In a meeting with 25 students from grades 11 and 12 in Toronto, Mayrand said he didn't detect any of the cynicism often attributed to young people as they discussed the Ontario provincial election.
"What struck me was they were quite engaged and quite interested," Mayrand said. "The thing they needed is a bit more knowledge."
He said his message to the students was to understand the importance of being informed, to get engaged with political parties.
"Some see MPs and elected officials as being remote," he said.
He said the students were surprised when he suggested they write their MPs and ask them to attend one of their classes. Most of them didn't know they could do that.
"We need to remove some of the perceived barriers," Mayrand said.
Elections Canada has developed some civic education materials for use in schools. They're also encouraging kids to take it upon themselves to get engaged with the contest, which is being co-sponsored by the group Apathy is Boring.
Winners can receive a camera, iPad, PlayStation 3 and gift cards.
On the web:
Canada's Democracy Week -- www.democracy-democratie.ca