A few pithy statements from Rick Mercer about the youth vote during Canada’s Spring 2011 federal election unleashed a great creative spirit across the country. The Globe and Mail positively summed it up as “Voting-mob mentality has young people running amok” (April 18, 2011).
Mercer, host of The Rick Mercer Report on CBC Television, urged Canada’s more than three million eligible young voters to “do the unexpected. Take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people all around the world are dying to do. Vote.” (Rick’s Rant, March 29, 2011).
It didn’t take long for students to directly respond to that challenge. The first group, from the University of Guelph, created an uplifting video that began with the message, “Rick Mercer challenged youth to vote. Rick, this one’s for you,” and went on to show hundreds of students running together around campus with the evident exuberance of a collective of young people with a purpose. Their video concluded with “Vote for the Canada you want”, and a challenge to other universities: “Guelph is getting our vote on. Show us your campus will too.”
And from there, the Rick Mercer-inspired, and student-led vote-mob campaign was on. Dozens of wonderful, positive, non-partisan, pro-vote videos from university students across the country were produced and posted online, turning on the social media world and demonstrating a reinvigorated engagement in the democratic process. It was young people expressing themselves in their own, contemporary way, reflecting their world and asking each other to participate.
This joyous, accidental democracy campaign that Rick Mercer informally launched on his CBC Television program was a great example of how the national public broadcaster contributes to enriching democracy in Canada. Mercer’s invitation to young people, carried on CBC Television and CBC’s digital networks opened up and strengthened interest in the Spring 2011 federal election — and perhaps in every Canadian election henceforth.