Local students defy survey results, get involved on political scene

Passionately involved in everything from student council to parliamentary simulation, local students seem more interested in politics than ever, despite far from encouraging survey results.

According to a recent Elections Canada survey, 60% of young Canadians are not interested in politics; respondents said they feel alienated from the political scene and thought they were not informed enough for their interest to be stirred up, while experts cited uninspiring leaders and recent governmental scandals as other possible causes of disinterest. Over the past ten years, federal elections' participation rates for voters aged 18 to 30 were far below the rates for older voters, and nothing indicates the situation is about to improve.

Statistics are far from encouraging, yet local students seem to know how to set themselves apart from their disenchanted peers; several of them are actively involved on a bustling political scene. Alexandre Piral, who graduated from St. Lawrence College this spring, is among them. "Politics influences many aspects of our day-to-day life," he says. "It combines elements from several fields I consider crucial and fascinating." He joined St. Lawrence Politics Club in 2008 and was hooked almost immediately.

Like Piral, many local students eagerly took part in this year's Forum Etudiant, a five day parliamentary simulation held at the National Assembly. "It was an amazing experience," says Étienne Cayer, who represented François-Xavier-Garneau College at the event. "The Forum offered unique insight on what politics is truly like on a day-to-day basis," he adds. Piral, who was awarded a bursary for his participation, experienced the ups and downs of a deputee's life as he prepared and presented a controversial law. "I was relieved when the law got adopted, even if it was under an altered version," he says.

Local young adults also familiarize themselves with politics through their respective schools, where student council elections are held each year. William Plamondon Huard decided to get involved on Garneau's political scene and was recently elected as the main coordinator of the College's student association. "I have been discussing about political issues with my father ever since I was a kid," he says. "This year, I felt I needed to go beyond my classes to deepen my education."

Several local students are also active member of a provincial party's youth association, while others invite local candidates to debate at their school whenever an election is coming. Many others are simply passive observers who enjoy peeking at the political scene whenever they can. "The last American elections made me believe in the power of democracy," says Vanessa St-Hilaire, who made the trip to Washington to see Obama's inauguration last January. "The event definitely raised my interest for politics."

May they get involved on the political scene at the local or national level, Quebec City's students have one thing in common: they believe young people can significantly contribute to politics. "I'm convinced we can bring new, stimulating ideas to the political scene," Étienne Cayer says. "After all, we're the ones who are building tomorrow's world."