Monday, April 27, 2015

Sidelining The Youth Vote

The potential of the youth vote, about which I have written several times on this blog, is, without question, great. The fact that only a low number of young people turn out to vote should be a source of grave concern for all those who desire real change in Canada.

Sadly, those low numbers are a cause for celebration among our main political parties, their occasional rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

The math is simple. If a group does not vote, their concerns can be ignored. And the more their concerns are ignored, the less appealing the act of voting becomes to them. Case closed. Cue the status quo.

Consider the latest budget, as examined in a Globe and Mail editorial:
Much has been made of the fact that the new federal budget is craftily geared by the Harper government to appeal to specific segments of the voting population. Seniors are getting all kinds of goodies, some designed specifically for their age group and others that are available to all, but which will (nudge nudge wink wink) benefit them the most. Two-income couples with children under 18 are big winners, too, as are small-business owners.

Left off the gravy train are young people. Why? Because they are way less likely to cast a vote than older people are, and they don’t make up as large a share of the population as they used to. By being disengaged, they have now become conveniently ignorable, not just by the government but by the opposition parties, too.
Such is not good for the health of a democracy.
A 2013 Parliament of Canada study concluded that more young voters than ever are dropping out of electoral participation at all levels of government. Worse still, their apathy is permanent. They don’t start voting as they get older, which is one of the key reasons the average participation rate in Canada is dropping. A country where, a generation ago, more than 75 per cent of the population routinely voted in major elections is now lucky to have a 61 per cent turnout.
In this situation, those who do vote are courted by the parties, with resulting lopsided budgets like this last one that pander to select groups rather than promote a vision for the country. Of course, it is subsequent generations who will bear the brunt of ever-diminishing national programs, health care money, government pensions, etc.

It would be easy and preferable if we could simply blame the Harper regime, which has raised to high art vote-targeting. But that would not be the whole truth:
In the 2011 federal election, all three major parties focused on the middle class and on families. They made few direct references to youth. When they did, it was more often about “youth crime” or “at-risk youth” than it was about youth unemployment or university tuition. The parties are doing the same in this election, all led by the Harper government’s pro-senior, pro-family budget.
All are complicit in the erosion of our once healthy and dynamic democracy.
Is there a way to get young Canadians back in the game? Not in this election, unfortunately. The apathy of young voters has caused politicians to tune out. Politicians tuning them out has made young voters more apathetic. The vicious circle goes round and round. And we’re losing a generation of voters.
Our current crop of 'leaders' have much to answer for.

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