A Carleton University student video satirizing a 2009 hit song has turned into a debate over what it takes to get younger voters to the ballot box, pitting those who say the two-minute clip was in bad taste against those who argue that reversing declining turnout among younger generations means taking risks.
"I turned to my team on Friday and said we've accomplished our goal. We wanted to get people talking about this election in a different manner and to engage a population that's not usually engaged. And now we're like at 60,000 views across the country," said Fahd Alhattab, the president of the Carleton University Student Association.
The group's profanity-laced I'm Gunna Vote video spoofs the hit I'm on a Boat by The Lonely Island, a comedy trio associated with Saturday Night Live. Carleton's iteration is part of nation-wide efforts by student organizations to reverse voter turnout rates that are 20 to 40 per cent lower for people under 24 than for the general population. The student vote had largely been ignored in this campaign. Only the Green Party has made a direct appeal, with a promise to gradually eliminate postsecondary tuition fees. But on Monday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau released the final version of his party's platform at Wilfrid Laurier University and also promised changes to student loans that would benefit lower-income students.
That lack of attention to student issues leads to lower engagement among this group and hurts the country, some say.
"Throughout history, young people's ideals have helped push society forward. ... We need the youth vote to help shove the rest of us into a better world," said Melissa Pang, an advertising copywriter for Toronto-based Key Gordon Communications, who worked on another youth vote campaign at Carleton.
Sponsored by the residence students' association, this campaign features posters with the slogans "Sexists Vote. Bullies Vote. Racists Vote. Drown them out on Oct. 19."
"We did not want a finger-wagging, 'you should vote' campaign, we really wanted something to get students' attention," said Graham Pedregosa, the president of the Rideau River Residence Association, which has put up the posters in every residence and sponsored an all-candidates debate panel with the candidates in the university's riding.
The ad agency – which works with non-profit companies, including arts and health organizations – designed the campaign for free.
"We love working on youth campaigns," Ms. Pang said. "They are the most embarrassing, cringe-worthy things on the planet, and it's great to have the chance to break the socks-and-sandals mold."
The posters try to counter the idea that one vote makes no difference.
"One vote may not seem like it matters, but what if it's cancelling out someone else's? What if your vote cancels out that guy on Facebook who's spewing out all kinds of horrid, bigoted crap into your feed? Now will you vote?" Ms. Pang said.
Rather than condemn the sometimes ill-considered tactics of youth vote campaigns, older voters should welcome attempts to give students a voice, said Yvonne Su, one of the co-founders of Vote Savvy, a national student group that has produced positive clips encouraging turnout.
Next week, Vote Savvy will release a video showing a student's parents using the speed-dating app Tinder to select partners for their offspring.
"We're saying, 'you wouldn't let your mom or dad choose your dates, would you? Why would you let them vote for you,'" said Ms. Su, a graduate student in political science at the University of Guelph.
Many of those who objected to the Carleton video on social media said they were most offended that it was based on a six-year-old song, making it stale. "That would be awesome 2 to 3 years ago," one commenter said on Reddit.
But Mr. Alhattab, who appears in the video, said there was a method to the parody.
"We felt it was a song that a cross-generation would know. People as young as 17, 18 to as old as a 30-year-old and beyond. Our demographic in university is not just your 18-to-22 any more, we have a lot of students who are older."
Still, he added that the student group has apologized to those who may have found the swearing too much.
Student groups are working until the election to improve turnout, including voting pledge drives led by the Canadian Federation of Students. On Monday, special voting stations opened at 39 campuses as well as community centres for four days to allow students to vote.