Candidates from the Liberal Party, the Green Party and the NDP came to support the University of Toronto’s vote mob on April 23.
Shortly after the current election was announced March 26 after Harper’s minority Conservative government was defeated on a nonconfidence vote, satirist Rick Mercer challenged Canadian youth to “do what young people all over the world are dying to do: vote.”
Vote mobs are non-partisan rallies that are filmed and uploaded onto YouTube in hopes of inspiring eligible youth to vote. Since then, vote mobs have been popping up at a number of universities, including Carleton and McGill, trying to answer Mercer’s call to action.
NDP’s Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina), Green Party’s Rachel Barney (Trinity-Spadina) and Liberal Party’s Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux (York-Simcoe) mingled with the young crowd on the front lawns of the Ontario Legislative Building. Police estimated 150 people were present at the event.
“[Mercer] really hit home with us because he likened rising tuition fees with our apathy at the polls,” said University of Toronto student and event organizer Madison Leach. “We feel that if we’re out here lobbying and voting together, then maybe the parties will pay more attention to us.”
Mob participants signed a banner, held homemade signs that read phrases like, “Voting is sexy” and “Apathy is so 2008,” and periodically broke out into cheers. They yelled out chants like, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “A-P-A-T-H-Y. Apathy is history!” From the Ontario Legislature building, they marched through the University of Toronto campus to the Elections Canada office on Bathurst Street, making lots of noise along the way.
“It’s important that young people speak out,” Chow said. “Ottawa is broken, and we need to fix it. We need you to fix it.”
Wesley-Equimaux said young voters are being alienated from the process as MPs distance themselves from them. She said hopes the vote mobs will change that.
“They don’t think [the youth] are interested, but I think you guys are,” Wesley-Equimaux said. “Nobody has been talking to them in the last while, and now politicians are, and I think that’s a really important thing.”
In 2008, only 37 per cent of voters in the 18-25 range participated in the last federal election.
While issues like education and climate change were on the minds of participants and politicians alike, vote mob supporter Joanna Dafoe said she believes apathy is a bigger concern.
“I think the overriding issue is simply our democracy and our politics is something we have to take ownership of,” Dafoe said. “We won’t see the policies enacted until we show up to express our concerns.”
The true impact of the vote mobs will only be seen when all the votes are counted on May 2. Until then, mob participants hope to show politicians, through cheers, that they “don’t give a damn for any party who doesn’t give a damn for us! ”
Leach hopes the vote mobs will give students a reason to be excited about voting.
“I don’t think apathy is healthy,” Leach said. “I think we have a democratic right and we should exercise it.”