Canadian youth care about politics, and the last federal election showed just that. Data released by Elections Canada for 2015 saw the turnout for voters aged 18 to 24 increase by 18.3 points. This means that over half of all eligible youth voters came out and demanded equal representation.
Students on Ryerson’s campus were encouraged to vote in the last election. There was a station set up at the Ryerson Student Centre to allow students to vote for their local MP no matter where they lived. Initiatives like this help, but the big numbers show that there are still mountains to climb until youth voters can see equal representation.
Canadians aged 55 to 74 still have the highest voter turnout, hovering at around 76 per cent. This should be on the radar of young Canadians, voting age or not, because there are currently more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15.
Canada has an aging population. So, before Canadian youth can pat themselves on the back for what really was a good turnout, we need to keep the momentum going and come into the next election with more votes than ever before.
“There’s always this negative stigma around young people; we’re young so we must not be as experienced or we don’t have as much life experience: we don’t know as much or have the wisdom that comes with age…etc,” said Kevin Vuong, a co-chair on the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy. “I vote because it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m a young person, or what colour my skin is, where I come from, where I grew up, that’s where we’re all equal; my vote means just as much as the mayor’s, just as much as the prime minister’s.”
Vuong says that youth leaders who are more aware of what’s going on have a responsibility to share this knowledge within their networks to keep people informed.
“Ultimately for us as young people, the decisions that are being made today—whether good or bad—the outcomes that will result from these, we will be the ones to be paying for it,” said Vuong. “We’re the ones who will have to fund it and we’re the ones who will have to fix it if the decisions being made are no good and so it’s not just the right thing for young people to do, it’s the smart thing to do, to pick a leader that will reflect the forward thinking that we have.”
The voting offices were a good start to engage Ryerson students with the democratic process. Another way that youth leaders can help their fellow peers is to hold events such as the recent town hall meeting the Ryerson Student’s Union (RSU) held in partnership with LeadNow.
The current voting system doesn’t encourage political parties to work on issues that matter to young people; they say we’re an apathetic generation. This is the tagline for the RSU’s “They say we’re apathetic” town hall. Information and opinions given at the event were submitted to the parliamentary committee handling the feedback on electoral reform, said Victoria Morton, the RSU’s vice-president of education.
“Currently if you live in a majority conservative area and you want to vote NDP, for example, your vote literally won’t count,” said Morton. “So it’s really whoever reaches a certain number of votes all the votes after that just don’t count, where as in a proportionate system if say 25 per cent of people in Canada voted for Conservatives and 75 per cent voted for Liberals, 25 per cent would still be represented in the House of Parliament.”
The Minister of Democratic Institutions opened up a discussion on electoral reform. A call was put out to communities to hold their own town halls and consultations. All the feedback that was taken from the event was actually sent in a report directly to the committee, said Morton.
“Youth voters don’t just have to be a part of the system,” she said. “They can shape the system.”
In the coming year the RSU plans on holding more town hall type events to discuss issues like tuition fees, said Morton. This is because the framework for tuition fees is expiring in 2017 and she’s expecting that input on that topic will be needed.
The next federal election will take place on or before Oct. 21st, 2019; the next provincial election for Ontario will be held on or before Oct. 4th, 2018; and the next municipal election for Toronto will be held sometime in October 2018.