By Aurora Zboch
Brigette DePape, a former page in the Canadian Senate who rose to fame after pulling out a “Stop Harper” sign in the middle of a speech, stopped by Ryerson on March 25 for the Council of Canadians’ Get Out The Youth Vote event. The “Raging Page” or “Stop Harper” girl is now leading a campaign around mobilizing students to vote for the 2015 federal election.
“The Harper government is going against the values of many generations, not just young people,” DePape said, whose hopes still include stopping the Conservatives. When asked, a few of her reasons included “corporate globalization,” “high tuition fees,” and “cuts to social services.”
Additionally, DePape said she wants to ‘Stop Harper’ because of issues that the current government is not doing anything about – youth unemployment, climate change and the environment, not mention targeting young people at all in their own campaigns. Tactics of “fear-mongering” and the so-called “Unfair Elections Act” which make it harder to vote deter youth from political action entirely, DePape said.
“What is in our control,” DePape said, “is whether or not we vote and whether not we encourage those around us to do the same. There’s a lot of power in that.”
During the event, attendees expressed their collective and individual concerns, with many of their opinions lining up with DePape’s. At the end, everyone also proposed further outreach solutions and pledged to vote.
“The Council of Canadians reached out to us and we’re really excited to engage in this conversation around voting,” said Rajean Hoilett, president of the Ryerson Students’ (RSU) Union. Hoilett co-facilitated the event with local council representative Ailish Morgan. The RSU as well as the Canadian Federation of Students had part in organizing and supporting the 2015 Game-Changers tour. Ryerson was the fourth stop of five campuses visited across Canada.
“I really think that there is so many creative and inspiring, intelligent people here at Ryerson,” said DePape, “and we’ll need all of us to make this change happen.”
The Eyeopener got a chance to speak with DePape before the event.
What is your background with The Council of Canadians?
It’s pretty interesting, the first time I think I came across The Council of Canadians was here in Toronto. I was a student at the time at the University of Ottawa and then I came to Toronto for the G20 protests because I was really concerned about the direction that the government was headed. Just seeing- in terms of internationally, some of our policies and seeing some rights being violated and seeing how it was headed in the direction of corporate globalization and wanting to see it headed in a direction that wasn’t just profit over people but instead it was more centred around people’s needs and the environment. I actually saw Maude Barlow speak at a rally, as well as Naomi Klein, other awesome activists like Ben Powless, and that’s when I first came to know about The Council of Canadians.
How exactly did your Get Out The Youth Vote campaign come to be?
We had been working closely with people who are organizing with Get Out The [Youth] Vote and we recognized that there was a real opportunity in terms of young people and organizing to get out the vote. We know that in the last federal election, 1.6 million young people didn’t vote and there is a huge potential for them to shift the course of the next federal election and could really be the game-changers nobody saw coming. Especially in areas where there’s really tight races, like we look at a place like Nippissing and it was under 30 votes the amount that the Conservatives won by in that riding. Meanwhile in Nippissing there is a huge student population on campus, like thousands of students on campus, and many students who didn’t vote in the last election. So it’s amazing to think, like, one floor of residence could decide – whether it is Progressive or not.
There’s a huge potential here in Toronto, too, like a lot of people are saying that Ontario is where the next election will be won or lost because there are so many swing ridings and the Conservatives are so vulnerable here. So if we really want to see change on these issues that we care about, if we want to move away from the direction of fear-mongering and if we want to see instead a direction that’s more about equality and protection of the environment, then we can make that change as young people. So that’s what we’re really trying to focus on with the Youth Vote campaign – to come together as young people to reclaim our power and to make the change.
What are your personal platforms? What issues are you hoping to resolve following the campaign?
There’s been a number of issues that young people have raised. We have asked at every stop, what are the main priorities that young people have and issues that you feel that the Conservative government isn’t necessarily acting on or is going the wrong direction on, and there’s a few things that keep coming up every time. One of those is cuts to social services that we value like health care. One of those is feeling like the fear-mongering around this Bill C-51 is really harmful, and that we need to be going in the other direction and be more compassionate. Another is around high tuition fees – a lot of people feel like they’re hugely in debt, tuition fees have been on the rise, they’re at a record-high numbers in many places and it’s a huge burden on students’ backs. So we really need action on that and that is something that the Conservative government has been doing absolutely nothing about. We need real action on that and it’ll impact a lot of students’ lives.
We also believe as young people that if we come together and if we help elect these Progressive politicians they’ll be more likely to respond to us if we help them. Also, if we show that we have the power to elect OR also to reject them if they don’t listen us, right? Because right now, a lot of politicians aren’t even, like, we’re not even their targets! It’s funny, I was at a presentation and they were looking at all the different political parties and who they’re targeting and young people didn’t even come up in any of those. It’s really frustrating. The young people I know are really inspiring and are facing a lot of challenges like youth unemployment, student debt, concern about climate change and feeling like our generation is just kinda being screwed over in some ways. At the same time, I’m inspired because I’m seeing a lot of young people who are wanting change, are hungry for change and are doing something about it, taking matters into their own hands, they’re coming out to these forums. They are committing to voting.
We have a pledge online to vote and we’ve seen studies that show if you pledge to vote, you’re a lot more likely to go out and vote so a big part of our campaign is connecting to people one-to-one, collecting vote pledges. I really think that there is so many creative and inspiring, intelligent people here at Ryerson and we’ll need all of us to make this change happen. I really think that we are at a crossroads right now in terms of the fate of our country. As much as sometimes I think better politics is sometimes removed from us, I think when we see that it does really make a huge impact on our lives and other people’s lives around the world.
There’s a very real possibility that I’m very concerned about which is that we could see another majority Harper government. That’s a very real possibility, like we’re seeing in the polls. But at the same time, there’s this very real possibility that we could elect a Progressive government and that’s what gives me a lot of hope. For the people who are concerned about this, who are taking matters into their own hands, who want to see change, I’m really excited and inspired to be working with these people, to BE that change and to start making that change so that when Harper calls the election, we feel ready and we feel prepared and we know that there are some things that we can’t control but to step back and look at what IS in our control and one of those things is whether or not we vote and whether not we encourage those around us to do the same. There’s a lot of power in that.
Like you said, the youth vote isn’t at all a target in the campaigns of any parties, so is that why you are targeting them, why you feel they’re so important?
M-hmm! That is a big part of why we are doing this. I think there’s a lot of cynicism, which I share a lot of, in the sense that we don’t necessarily see many politicians speaking to our issues- speaking to issues such as youth unemployment, student debt, climate change- issues that maybe impact our generation, like, a lot and maybe disproportionately than others. At the same time, that is not to say that it’s one generation against another. I think it’s really about young people coming together and also recognizing that it’s in all of our collective future. The Harper government is going against the values of many generations, not just young people in terms of cuts to social services, health care, pensions – y’know, things that affect our parents and grandparents as well. It’s also out of love for them that it’s important that we get organized. I think that it’s been inspiring too to see people who are from older generations also recognizing the importance of youth voting, y’know, seeing it as supporting their sons and daughters, or their children and grandchildren, or just their friends who happen to be a different age. There’s lots to learn from previous generations that have been doing a lot of this good work in the past.
With mention of those issues that as young people we are concerned with, the idea of empowering each other and our families, is that part of how you’re appealing them to get youth to vote? Or how else are you encouraging them?
M-hmm! I think one of the important aspects of the campaign is connecting with young people face-to-face because we’ve seen that that is the best way to connect with people first and to understand what are those person’s concerns. Once we’re able to make that connection, then it becomes easier to see how voting will impact issues that they care about. I think there is a lot of propaganda from the Conservative government and efforts by them for young people not to vote. In addition to sharing with other young people just in terms of how much power we have to impact these ridings, I think that can be empowering, but also to equip our generation with the tools to actually go out and vote. I’ve had experiences where it’s been really hard to actually vote ‘cause you don’t know where to vote, you don’t know what information you need. Then with the “Unfair Elections Act” they took measures that makes it harder to vote like not allowing for vouching and things like that. So I’m really grateful for The Council of Canadians that actually issued a legal challenge on this “Unfair Elections Act” as we call it, with The Canadian Federation of Students, to say that this wasn’t okay, it’s unconstitutional to make it harder to vote. But yeah, certainly the Conservatives don’t want us to vote because we’re more likely to vote Progressively. We see how these governments are going against our values like equality, care for others and compassion. So I think that when we see that’s where our power is, it’s how we choose to use our power.
Does everyone on your team have the same political views and values as you do? Are they all ‘Stop Harper’ as well?
As The Council of Canadians, we are technically a non-partisan organization so we can’t endorse any one political party. That being said, we are all very concerned with the direction that the current Conservative government is taking us. We feel like it is going against our values and feeling like we need a change so for sure we feel united in that way.
So you aren’t explicitly saying ‘Vote Progressive!’ but rather encouraging action on the issues that the current, Conservative government is not taking?
Has your tour been successful so far? Have you been reaching the amount of students you’ve hoped to?
Yeah! I’m really happy with how the events are going so far with this initial phase of the tour. The main focus is to find like-minded young people who are savvy and really believe in a change and making that change happen, and in that way definitely I feel we’ve been very successful. We’ve connected with some awesome, smart young people who want to continue to see this campaign flourish. There’s been some canvasses happening on campuses and we’ve been talking to students, collecting vote pledges which has been really cool- really cool to connect with students and learn about what their concerns are. Y’know a lot of folks don’t know that the federal election is coming up so soon so it’s also good just in terms of awareness building and getting ready. So yeah, I’ve been super-inspired so far. We’ve done three stops – Winnipeg, Regina, SFU – and this is our fourth, and then Nippissing will be last for this part of the tour which is just really focused on campuses. Then we’ve got a few more phases closer to the election which is more focused on events and concerts.
Are you going to be doing the same campaign you’re doing now, just in other locations?
We’re aiming to focus on the same locations and just sort of scaling up. This is really about identifying youth leaders, so I would encourage that if anyone wants to get involved in the campaign to contact us – go to Canadians.org/IWillVote, be in touch. If you want to help in graphic design, or whether you are more into media and communications, or into organizing events, or you want to help out with things like data collection and are more on the research end of things. There’s a role for all of us. It’s going to take all of us to make that change happen on a local level and then a national level.