The pandemic has shone a light on the subject of mental health and one Niagara-on-the-Lake resident wants to ensure the issue is not forgotten whenever the next federal election is called.
Max Roberts Ramos, a third-year political science student at Brock University, recently wrapped up a stint working with Future Majority, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for youth issues at the national level.
Politically focused since his high school days at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, Roberts Ramos was invited by Future Majority to apply to their team fellowship program. Following an application and interview process, he took on the role of volunteer captain and co-director for the organization’s efforts in the Niagara Centre riding.
“It’s the first year they had expanded into the riding,” says Roberts Ramos, “so they really had no footprint here at all. We (he and another co-director) were in charge of building a team, and we got seven volunteers working specifically in the riding now. Then we started reaching out to local businesses and other partners in the riding through our Instagram account.”
The Niagara Centre riding encompasses Port Colborne, Welland, Thorold, and southwestern St. Catharines. It’s a riding that Future Majority has identified as potentially competitive. Roberts Ramos says the high number of Brock students living in Thorold and south St. Catharines was another major reason for the choice.
The organization’s focus is on mobilizing more young people to vote in ridings that are most likely to be decided by small vote margins by any major party. The theory is that mobilizing 1,000 new youth voters in a close riding can potentially turn the heads of every politician running for office. In safer ridings such as Niagara Falls, where the likely vote margin could be much larger, they rely more heavily on information campaigns.
Roberts Ramos’ local team held virtual house parties, online gatherings designed to get other Millennial and Gen Z residents (identified as those born between 1981 and the early 2000s) to talk about mental health and spread awareness. They also used social media and surveys to generate a list of 977 eligible young voters in the riding, successfully pushing up against that target of 1,000.
The local team also organized meetings with Liberal MP Vance Badawey and Conservative candidate and current Welland city councillor Graham Speck, as well as Fiona McMurran, the Green Party riding association president. The Green Party has yet to name a candidate in Niagara Centre.
“When we met (Badawey and Speck), we used the same general script,” explains Roberts Ramos. “We were looking specifically for them to sign a letter that we had from the national organization, which just states that improving access to mental health care is essential to combatting the mental health crisis in Canada. It doesn’t hold them to any policy commitments. It’s more just addressing that it’s a problem.”
He says the candidates accepted the letter positively, expressing interest in signing it. He is hopeful their signatures will be added within the next week.
Digging more deeply into the topic, Roberts Ramos says candidates in all ridings need to make mental health care a priority. Come election time, young voters will be looking for a specific plan to improve mental health care accessibility, and will be pushing for each party to commit to a royal commission or study to understand the root causes of mental health issues, especially in marginalized communities.
Besides mental health, Future Majority is also pushing for changes to university and college tuition to make post-secondary education more affordable. The environment, specifically climate change, is front and centre, as is racial and social justice.
For the next federal election, Niagara Centre is one of 25 priority ridings identified by Future Majority. The organization’s website points out that with Millennials and Gen Zs now counting for 40 per cent of eligible voters, young Canadians can potentially hold the balance of power.
In line with Future Majority’s focus, a big key is to get young Canadians to hit the polls. Roberts Ramos recognizes that at election time that can be an issue.
“I think there are some barriers when it comes to voting,” he admits. “A lot of students are away from home, living in different ridings. Young people in general move addresses a lot, too. That can lead to lower voting rates.”
In the 2019 federal election, Future Majority successfully motivated 26,000 students to vote across 15 competitive ridings. They claim that they were able to mobilize more students to the polls than the vote margin of the two leading parties running in 4 of those ridings. As well, they worked hard to get their message out through the press on their key tenets.
Though Roberts Ramos worked on Andrea Kaiser’s 2019 campaign in Niagara Falls, he is adamant that in his role this month with Future Majority there was no political bias.
“We made a real commitment to keep partisan politics out of it,” says Roberts Ramos. “In meeting with the organization, and in all their training sessions, it’s very clear that you are supposed to avoid partisan politics in all your meetings and even in discussions with the team. I’m sure (my team) has a variety of political beliefs, but I couldn’t even tell you what their beliefs are.”
Despite the popular image of a disengaged youth mesmerized by cell phones, Roberts Ramos sees a large number of his peers willing to speak up and be heard.
“I do think there is a significant number of people in the younger generations who are politically engaged,” he tells The Local. “This organization is providing a great way for young people to be more engaged in politics. I know for at least two of our volunteers, it was their first time being involved in a political organization. They really enjoyed it, and will hopefully stay engaged moving forward.”
Soon, Roberts Ramos will begin a co-op semester working with Statistics Canada, while balancing that with his part time job at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Library. When his studies are completed next year, he will be deciding between pursuing a master’s degree at Carleton University, or applying for jobs in electoral politics, hopefully working for an MP locally.
And now that his role with Future Majority has come to an end, he will most likely begin volunteering for Andrea Kaiser’s campaign once again. The 20-year old will be seen knocking on doors, urging not just young Canadians but voters of all ages to hit the polls come election time.