10/04/2015 04:56 EDT | Updated 10/04/2016 05:12 EDT

'Let The Lefties Run Your Campus': How Parties Try To Recruit Youth To Their Campaigns

The Conservative Party, for one, is taking shots at "lefties" on campuses and touting its ISIS airstrikes as a recruitment tactic.

The federal parties are using targeted attacks on rivals, slick hashtags and provocative slogans to recruit student volunteers to their election campaigns and more broadly court the youth vote in the Oct. 19 election.

The Conservative Party, for one, is taking shots at "lefties" on campuses and touting its ISIS airstrikes as a recruitment tactic.

"Let the lefties run your campus. Help the Conservatives run the country," reads one recruitment pamphlet.

The back of the pamphlet includes stock photos of a family, a fighter jet and a jail cell and text that reads, "Dropping taxes for families. Dropping bombs on ISIS. Dropping crooks in jail."

Meagan Murdoch, a communications staffer with the Conservatives, confirmed to CBC News that they are behind the pamphlet, but the party would not say where it has been handed out. Photos of the pamphlet have been circulating on social media and have been spotted in the student union centre at the University of Calgary.

Economy, crime and ISIS

The Conservatives are keeping fairly mum on their recruitment efforts, which along with those of the other parties ramped up in early September as students returned to school.

Typically, party youth wings are in charge of student outreach, but the Conservatives don't have an official federal youth wing.

When CBC News asked the party about its youth volunteer recruitment campaign, the Tories would only talk about the policies outlined in the campus pamphlet.

"The economy is our No. 1 priority," said Conservative spokesman Chris McCluskey in a statement. "We have a positive plan to protect our economy over the next four years.…

"Our men and women in uniform need the proper equipment to do their jobs, and that includes in international military missions alongside our allies — such as our current mission against ISIS, which the Liberals oppose."

Some information about Tory recruitment efforts can be gleaned from a website the party has set up specifically for student volunteers. It touts Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's years of leadership and "proven low-tax plan for jobs and growth" while pointing to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's "risky schemes to raise taxes and increase debt."

"The only way we are going to keep Justin Trudeau from becoming prime minister is with your involvement," reads the website, which makes no mention of the NDP or its leader, Tom Mulcair.

'What's Stephen Harper putting in your backpack?'

While the Tories specifically target Trudeau, the youth wings of the NDP and the Green Party — which are responsible for rallying students on university and college campuses — paint Harper as the threat.

The Young New Democrats use an image of a backpack on their recruitment website, with the question, "What's Stephen Harper putting in your backpack?"

They go on to list specific threats to young people the party claims were caused by the Conservatives: weakened environmental laws, youth unemployment and increased online surveillance. They do not mention the Liberals or Trudeau.

The group encourages youth to "fight back" while briefly outlining platform promises attractive to youth, such as protections for the environment and affordable tuition.

There are several more attacks on Harper and Trudeau on the group's social media accounts.

Natalie Petra, director of communications for the Young New Democrats, says the tactics are effective in engaging young people.

"As the official Opposition party, it's kind of our job to hold [Harper's] feet to the fire a little bit and to present the views of Canadians that don't necessarily agree with him," she said.

"We do some attacks, but we try to focus on the policies and the alternatives that we're presenting."

In contrast to the Tories and the NDP, the Young Greens' attacks on rivals aren't featured on their home page but rather are buried deeper on their website.

The "Take Action" page on the Young Greens' site calls the Conservative approach to governing an "unsustainable path" and encourages students to volunteer to ensure it is "Harper's last term as prime minister." Harper is the only rival party leader mentioned on the site.

These attacks on Harper, as well as some on Mulcair and Trudeau, are a lot more prominent on the Young Green's social media accounts and are shared and re-tweeted from the main Green Party Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Despite this, the party insists it is running a positive student recruitment campaign, with a focus on the party's youth-friendly policies, such as abolishing tuition and halting the expansion of the oilsands.

"I think a lot of young people are turned off ... the negative, cynical attack ads," said Nathan Grills, an outreach co-ordinator for the Green Party.

"Young people are noticing that the Green Party is putting forward big, bold ideas that appeal to our generation."

Young Liberals less critical

The youth wing of the Liberals takes a less-aggressive approach against the other parties in its recruitment literature.

The Young Liberals' website doesn't directly criticize the other political parties or leaders — rather, the spotlight is squarely on Trudeau. The campaign is running under the title #GenerationTrudeau, which subtly plays on Trudeau's past bouts in the boxing ring and encourages others to join the fight for "real change."

The website lists specific Liberal policy planks aimed at youth under the heading "Fighting for Our Generation," including tackling climate change, legalizing marijuana and creating a prime minister's youth advisory council.

While there are no attacks on the Young Liberals' website, there are a few posts that directly criticize Harper and Mulcair on their social media accounts.

Justin Kaiser, the president of the Young Liberals, told CBC News that they are intentionally trying to keep attacks out of their youth recruitment strategy.

"Young Canadians are looking for a change in politics … they don't want the same old politics of division that you see with Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper," Kaiser said.

"They don't need to see the mudslinging that the other parties tend to do."

For all three parties, the recruitment messaging plays into their broader efforts to get out the youth vote, efforts that are gaining in urgency as students prepare to head home for Thanksgiving weekend, which coincides with the advance polls on Oct. 9-12.

Only 38.8 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the last federal election in 2011, according to Elections Canada.

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