Column published in the Orangeville Citizen, September 4, 2014.
Municipal elections are just over a month away, which means we’re quickly going to be moving into the full-fledged campaigning period of all hopeful council, Mayoral and Deputy Mayoral candidates. As someone who has only had the capability to vote for the last decade, I truly believe that there needs to be more of a shift towards including our youth in the voting process.
It’s no secret that the population is aging and those coming up are becoming less and less interested in the political issues going on around them. In the 2011 Federal Elections, only 38.8 percent of voters aged 18-24 actually voted. Out of that percentage, I don’t think it’s too much to say that at least 50 percent of them likely were not fully engaged in the issues and voting for parties based on anything more than what their family has always voted. Even now, I still know young adults who are nearing 30 who vote a specific way because that’s how their parents vote.
Getting younger voters engaged in the election process can be a difficult task. Oftentimes, their concerns are different from those of the older generations, and figuring out what matters to them can be difficult. But like it or not, these non-voters are the future of our country. And if our youth continue to become more and more disengaged, what’s going to happen when our governments are determined by far less than 40 percent of it’s population?
One issue I’ve heard from young voters (and this one flows through to some older voters that don’t vote either) is the lack of transparency and honesty they see from those running in the elections. I’ve heard that critics say that if politicians were honest, no-one would vote for them, but I really don’t think that’s true. If politicians were honest about the things they’d like to do and like to see changed, without putting out promises they can’t fulfil, they might see a different type of response.
Look at Jack Layton. Love him or hate him, despise the NDP or not, it’s undeniable that he realized people wanted engagement, wanted transparency and more than anything, that the youth needed to be recognized. In the time that Mr. Layton was head of the NDP, their popularity skyrocketed and more and more young voters (and those not old enough to vote) were taking an interest. They were recognized and were no longer invisible.
We are fortunate that in this town, many of our councillors, politicians, Mayors, etc have been hugely involved in both the community and youth activities within the community. But that involvement needs to move beyond into engagement and into helping the younger generations understand why that vote they cast is important.
I’ve heard some politicians in the past mention that they don’t know what it is young voters want to hear about, so that’s what causes the break. Problem is, there is a quite simple solution to that: ask them. Visit the schools, the colleges, heck, call a debate that is just for young adults and let them choose the questions.
As we were gearing into the 2004 Federal Election, the local candidates did just that with Westside Secondary School, ODSS and Centre Dufferin. The problem was, of the four candidates, two didn’t show up. One stated to the rep that ‘Youth are not really a concern in this election. Most of my voters are older, and I’m too busy to focus on votes that don’t count.’ It’s paraphrased of course, but I remember how furious I was hearing that. If I hadn’t been someone avidly interested in politics, I probably would have chosen not to vote after hearing that.
And sadly, that wasn’t the only time I heard that sentiment. When I was in college covering a candidates debate where a 20-something was running for one of the parties, not only did one of the parties call him out on his youth meaning he couldn’t make mature decisions, they also rejected one of my questions regarding focus on youth stating that ‘youth don’t understand politics, and it’s not worth our time trying to make them understand’.
Granted, they need to make the biggest impact possible in order to ensure more votes in the election, but think about the untapped potential of voters in young people. Over 60 percent of young voters are not voting. According to Stats Canada, in 2013 young adults aged 20-24 made up 7 percent of our population. That’s over 2.4 million Canadians, meaning that approximately 1.4 million of them are not voting. That’s still a fairly large demographic, considering most other age categories sit at between 6.6-7.2 percent of Canadians. And that’s not including the 18-19 year olds in that number.
The Town of Orangeville has been succeeding in creating events and places that set trends and make a name for our fair town. Our Bravery Park will be the first of it’s kind, and people come from all over North America to participate in and see our Blues and Jazz Festival.
As we roll into our municipal election, let’s try to be known for something else as well: let’s work together to get our youth more engaged in voting and in the future of our town. Let’s show the country that getting our youth interested in what goes on is possible, and let’s show our youth that their needs, their wants and their interests are not invisible.