The Way I See It: Why don’t young Canadians vote?

In July 2003 a report published by two political science professors indicated that voter turnout among 18 to 24 year olds in Canadian elections was abysmally low — 22 per cent for 18 to 20 year olds rising to 38 per cent for 25 to 29 year olds. 

A similar report by the Conference Board of Canada in 2013 asked why average voter turnout in Canada is so low compared other western countries and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of younger voters. That report notes that in 2011 only 38.8 per cent of the population aged 18 to 24 voted.

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The Conference Board suggested ways to increase voter participation in young people, including “making voting easier and more meaningful for first-time voters, making politics more relevant to the young, providing them with the tools they need to understand its relevance to their own lives and engaging them more directly in the political process.”

These recommendations sound like they were written by the same cohort that comes to Whistler for a season and immediately starts demanding more subsidized housing, questioning why they must work two jobs to earn the money necessary to enjoy their expensive lifestyle and wondering why they don’t have the same long-term prospects as their friends who stayed home and learned a trade, got a profession or started a business.

I can’t help but wonder on Remembrance Day what the young soldiers who slogged thought knee-deep mud across blood-soaked battle fields, who were gassed in trenches, who were drowned or electrocuted in the bowels of their ships or who took off on bomber missions knowing their chances of returning alive were less than one in eight, would think of a generation that comes to government with their hands out, but can’t make it to the polls to vote.

The values of the two groups of youngsters 80 or 100 years apart cannot be reconciled except to say that those who fought in wars to protect our freedoms fought for the right to take a gap year.

Therein lies the rub. I heard those stories from my grandfather, who had his arm blown off by a German shell, chunks of which stayed in his body for the rest of his life. Are today’s young people too far removed from those stories? If so, what narrative would get out the younger vote?

The values of the two groups of youngsters 80 or 100 years apart cannot be reconciled except to say that those who fought in wars to protect our freedoms fought for the right to take a gap year, the right to aspire to something higher or be content with something less. In other words, they fought for the right to choose, provided one was also prepared to live with the consequences.

Behind the recently acquired attitudes, the cliché clothing and the unkempt hair is often somebody who is doing nothing worse than taking a year or two off and trying to find their way while doing so.

So the next time a snowboarder bursts out of the trees and scares the crap out of you or is generally being a dick in the Village on a Saturday night, remember that behind many of the temporary insanities are strong characters, fine brains and good hearts. Many will eventually fight forest fires, go to medical school and find a cure for disease, learn a trade and build the addition to your house or sign up to go to the next war to protect our right to vote.

As for exercising my own right to vote, too many environmentalists don’t care if the world goes to hell in a hand basket, as long as it is a green hand basket. On the other hand Sue Maxwell is skilled, accomplished, thoughtful, realistic and her arguments are fact based rather than dogmatic. She’s got my vote. Jen Ford is involved in the community and merits a vote. The last open spot is a crapshoot.

Nick is a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and long-time resident of Whistler who lives and works in Whistler and Vancouver. Nick served as a councillor for two terms and exercised his freedom to run a losing campaign for mayor.

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