Cochrane youth cast their ballots

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Despite some not being old enough to vote for at least seven more years, kids in Cochrane with their pulse on town politics voted in five of the same officials — including mayor Jeff Genung – as the rest of the of-age electorate.

Last week, nearly 700 students from eight Cochrane schools took part in a nationwide election initiative co-ordinated by Civix, a non-profit organization that encourages young Canadians to become active and engaged citizens.

The student vote was released Monday at 8 p.m., just as the polls for the real Cochrane election came to a close. The results: youth chose Genung as mayor — in a 344 to 198 clear victory over incumbent Ivan Brooker – along with councillors Bella Fallis, Dan Cunin, Miles Chester, Morgan Nagel, Susan Flowers and Tara McFadden.

“Me and my parents discussed who we were going to vote for (and) we talked about it in class. We researched all the candidates,” said 11-year-old voter Brielle Bullock, one of 90 Grade 6 students from Mitford Middle School who cast their ballots on Friday.

Bullock said she read about candidates’ platforms online, in the newspapers and on their websites.

“We learned more about politics and how it connects with the government,

She said. “We learned about what (councillors) do and the kinds of decisions that they make.”

Mayoral candidates Genung and Brooker both took time to meet with Mitford classes during their campaigns, chatting directly with students about skate park size, dog park issues, transit wish lists and more.

Bullock said she and a group of friends even braved an email to candidate Ross Watson — whom, to their surprise, wrote them back.

“We told him we liked his plan for the future of Cochrane,” she said. “He actually replied to me three hours later, I think it was. Normally I wouldn’t expect someone that busy to reply … it was pretty cool.”

Classmate Erica Noel, also 11, said she was excited to learn how to take part in a process that, when she’s older, will make a big difference to the future of her town.

“I’ve been kind of in tune with the election now. School, education is really important … Traffic is pretty bad in this town,” she said. “It’s important to vote because … if you don’t pick the right person, then it can all go downhill.”

Jacki-Lyn Parker said she was proud her students had thoughtful perspectives on each topic and shared thoughts openly with candidates about the challenges they face.

Later in the school year, youth will create a local government of their own as part of the curriculum with their own mock town, mayor, council, sub-committees, taxes and capital projects.

“That’s what we’re trying to show these students — that they do have a voice and you can make change at this age,” said Parker. “They really get to see what’s happening in the real world.

“When we’re engaged … we understand more,” she added. “I love the fact that the kid are seeing these things.”

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