Skyrocketing tuition costs, chronic unemployment, inaction on climate change… if you’re under 25, chances are these issues are some of the few that directly impact you. Canada will head to the polls in a few days to elect a new government, and a party will implement its plan for the nation in the coming years. Unfortunately, for young Canadians, these prospective policies don’t really seem to have anything of value. It seems as though modern Canadian political parties are ignoring a very large, very influential, bloc of voters – and if history is any guide, it’s at their own peril.
In this campaign, we have seen virtually no discussion of the issues facing voters under 25. The NDP platform contains some good ideas to tackle rising education costs, but it takes some serious searching to find them. The Conservative party also has some interesting measures regarding financial assistance and support, but hasn’t really done more than pay lip service to these measures as part of its larger budget proposal. The Green party pledges support for ‘strong communities’ but it is difficult to parse out any real, concrete information from its platform about youth issues.
With the exception of the Liberal Party and its somewhat lackluster “Learning Passport,” there have been few, if any, real public overtures to young Canadians in this election. Certainly none that have registered with the mainstream media or generated anything more than a passing blip on social media like Twitter. This is, in a word, unacceptable.
It is curious and, in some ways, offensive that none of the major political parties in this country seem to take young voters seriously. The reason, it is commonly believed, is that young Canadians vote in far fewer numbers than the general population. This is true but largely irrelevant, whether or not that trend continues. Politicians have a duty to govern for everyone; whether or not somebody supports a party does not diminish the need to have his or her problems addressed by the government. Young Canadians, along with the very elderly, are indeed amongst the most vulnerable in society. It is irresponsible to ignore a group’s problems simply because you don’t think you can get most of them to the ballot box.
Struggling to find work or chugging away in low-paying jobs, nascent careers barely begun; fighting to somehow pay rent and skyrocketing tuition while still managing to keep stomachs full—this is the life of young voters. This is why they aren’t engaged. Parties ignore the needs of the young, causing them to disengage from politics to focus on their own day-to-day issues. As a result, a very stubborn cycle forms. The perennial low turnout of young voters in Canada is a serious problem but few seem willing to offer a remedy. Show us that we are considered, that we are factored into policy and decisions; they will, after all, affect our lives too. Shouldn’t we be something more than an afterthought?
If the parties truly reached out to engage young adults and spoke to their problems and goals with clear statements and policy, voter turnout would likely be less of an issue. People will support a party they see themselves in, and it is reasonable to expect that the young would flock to the party that treats them like valued citizens. Young, impassioned, and sometimes angry people have been at the helm of many great transformations in Canadian society. Despite its obvious implications for national unity, in the early 1970s the Quebec sovereignty movement was largely successful at becoming a potent political force by stirring up listless young people and students yearning for a change. It is certainly plausible that such a massive uprising of civic engagement could occur at the federal level.
Of course, young Canadians must do their part and demand to be acknowledged in both policy and practice. We know the young are a potent force and the more young voices that speak out, the more parties will be forced to listen.
So the challenge for both sides is clear: Canadians under 25 must learn to communicate their desires more clearly, and politicians must learn to respond. If the political parties of Canada want our support, our engagement, and most of all our votes – show us what you’ve got.
Policy information courtesy of 2011 election platforms, by party: