About three weeks ago I asked my students (grade 3/4) what was happening on October 21, 2019 and they stared at me blankly. Some of them eventually guessed Halloween, while others thought maybe it was the beginning of winter. None of them knew about the federal election. None of them cared.
“Didn’t we just have one of those?” One of the kids asked looking bewildered. “One election in a year is definitely enough.”
I explained about the difference between provincial elections (which happened here in September) and the federal election. Most of them knew the name of the Prime Minister, but the only thing they could tell me about him was that he was white and had brown hair.
Today, when the kids arrived at school they were yelling over each other in a hurry to tell me about what they had seen of the election results. Two of my students had stayed up until 10 pm watching the election unfold and most of them were happy that Trudeau had won.
I pulled up the map of Canada with all the party colours and the kids tried to make sense of the political landscape of the country. They asked whether the Bloc would really try to take Quebec out of Canada. They asked why Winnipeg was mostly Liberal and NDP while the rest of the prairies was a blur of Conservatives. They asked how soon Trudeau would change minimum wage and whether eliminating emissions by 2050 was going to be good enough to stop climate change.
They asked a lot of interesting questions.
But, I think the best question was asked by the same kid who thought that one election a year was enough. “There’s a lot of colours.” She said staring at the map of the election results and shaking her head, “Do we need to remember all of this? What actually matters most in this election?”
It’s a good question, isn’t it? Have you asked yourself what matters most to you?
My first thought was to celebrate that Maxime Bernier had not gotten his seat. Bernier who leads the PPC and describes multiculturalism as the ‘cult of diversity’, is a plague that I’m thankful did not spread during this election. Standing in my classroom, where my only white male student from a heterosexual household had gone home sick, I couldn’t help to think that this was important to all of us in the room.
Then, I thought about my own riding, where for the first time in 25 years, I voted for someone who actually got elected! Leah Gazan is a politician who I am excited and proud to support. After so many years of disillusionment, it feels good to vote for someone that I believe in (especially when they get elected).
I also thought about my oldest son who has now decided that he wants to be the Prime Minister (he’s currently 10 years old) so that he can help make the changes he wants to see in the country.
In the end, what I said was, “What matters most in this election is you.”
There was a mass outcry from my class of things like, “We couldn’t even vote.” I stood patiently and waited for them to quiet down again (Ok, I didn’t really, I counted in the 1, 2, 3 Magic way that I use in my class, or they might still be talking right now.)
Then I explained that I think they are the most important thing in this election because they learned to be a part of the democratic process and care about what happens in their country.
We only exist as a democracy if we have voters and democracy only works when voters are informed. In the span of a few weeks, my students went from being completely disinterested and disengaged in a process that they had never even thought about, to being active, involved and interested in the fate of the country they live in. Many of my students went home and talked to their parents about the election. They talked about things like daycares, minimum wage, healthcare and education with their families. Two of my students excitedly told me that their parents had voted when originally they said they weren’t going to bother.
This is what matters the most. The kids, our future, learning to care about a system that hopefully they will improve upon in their lifetime.
There are things in this election that left me feeling grateful. I am thankful that Bernier didn’t get a seat. I am thankful that Scheer isn’t our Prime Minister (I’m still recovering from Stephen Harper). I am thankful to be a patch of orange in a sea of blue.
Those things matter, but they matter only in the short term. Justin Trudeau will have a hard four years and then likely fade away (hopefully gaining a little wisdom as he ages). I can be grateful in the here and now, but my hope has to lie in this next generation. Let them be the generation of thoughtful activists, let them grow into a generation that lives acceptance and tolerance, that walks the talk of kindness. If we can raise children who tune in and open up, then maybe, just maybe humanity has a fighting chance.