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U of O prof offers fun twist on voting ahead of federal election

Jillian Leblanc, Duff Conacher, and Deborah Sogelola of Vote Party. Photo: Eric Davidson

One University of Ottawa prof is looking to change the meaning of the phrase “political party” by encouraging people to, well, party. The project works by encouraging people who already vote to bring their friends along too, with a party or celebration as extra incentive.

“The vote parties are parties just to celebrate voting and celebrate democracy,” said Jillian Leblanc, a media relations officer with Vote Party. “How good does that feel to contribute on such a big scale?”

“A lot of ‘get out to vote’ initiatives are aimed at people who already vote,” she said. This, she says, is the wrong group to target.

A number of celebrities have already joined the party—Rick Mercer, the band Majic, and others have supported the initiative in a 30-second video.

Vote Party was founded by Duff Conacher, visiting professor at the U of O, and co-founder of Democracy Watch. The initiative takes a lighthearted approach to tackling a very serious issue.

With over 60 per cent of young voters opting to not cast a ballot last election, Conacher thinks it’s time to spark a change. He believes that an era of political cynicism and dishonesty has pushed youth away from the polls.

“A bunch of people would have been raised by parents who’ve been complaining a lot about politicians breaking promises, wasting money, acting unethically, and hiding things from the public, or making decisions that the public doesn’t support,” said Conacher.

He says that a confusing system where some people are made to feel unimportant is at fault.

“Essentially, with our system, a lot of our ridings are ‘safe ridings’, you can win the vote with 30 per cent of the vote and have done so for decades. There’s no real incentive whether you’re voting for that party or against it,” he said.

It’s for these reasons that Conacher formed Vote Party.

“It’s important for any section of society to vote if they want their concerns addressed,” said Conacher. “Youth do have particular concerns, such as education, that are not shared with other age groups directly.”

While its primary audience is students and young voters, Vote Party encourages voting for people of all ages.

“You can take your grandparents, aunt, uncle, anyone,” said Leblanc. “You can take them to the polls.”

The main goal is to get people to celebrate voting.

“It’s something to be happy about,” said Leblanc. “That’s the feeling we want to get across.”

While the Vote Party campaign was launched for the federal election, the goal is to carry the momentum forward to all levels of voting.

“We just want people to exercise their right to vote, whether that’s at a provincial, municipal, or federal level,” she said.

—With files from Eric Davidson

For more information, check out http://www.voteparty.ca