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'We have a big failure in schools': Political science expert on low voter turnout

The majority of Waterloo Region residents did not cast a ballot in Monday's municipal election
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A political science expert says schools need to do a better job of teaching the importance of voting from an early age.

Early numbers from the municipal election show dismal voter turnout on Monday, with decisions made by only a fraction of Waterloo Region residents.

Kitchener saw the lowest turnout of the tri-cities, with just 20.26 per cent casting a ballot.

"We have a big failure in the schools to prepare children for the responsibility of being a citizen," said Peter Woolstencroft, professor emeritus of political science from the University of Waterloo.

"The school has to develop a political culture and understanding that it is a privilege to live in a democracy and with that privilege comes responsibility, and that means that you have to put some time into being a citizen. That means that you're taking responsibility for what happens in your community."

That involves doing research---checking candidates' websites and listening and watching election coverage on radio and television---to find out which candidates you agree with ahead of voting.

However, Woolstencroft said it can be tricky for voters, who likely aren't specialists on issues.

At the same time, he points to a lot of generalization in the political process. 

"A lot of candidates know that there's a big problem with homeless and affordability and those kinds of things, but I don't know if they are really clear about the path forward. What that means for the average voter is that it's very hard to tell the difference between one and the other," Woolstencroft said.

"I defy somebody to go through, say the debates in Waterloo, and really find a clear distinction between any of the candidates. They all agree it's a big problem. All agree we'll do something about it. All agree we have to get the province, the federal government, the private sector involved, but beyond that, not a lot of specific difference." 

Woolstencroft said there's a widespread trend of low voter turnout among Western democracies.