Most Canadians who grew up in the era of majority governments expect a federal vote every four or five years. But university students who have come of voting age amid three elections in that same span may feel they have stumbled into some sort of electoral Groundhog Day, marching to the same ballot boxes to choose the same leader.
But is this democratic déjà vu making them more aware? Are they turned off by the partisanship and tuning out? Or are they simply detached from the machinations of Parliament Hill?
Unlike the 2006 and 2008 elections, which were held in the new year and the fall respectively, this campaign falls squarely in the university exam season. And as McMaster Students Union vice-president Joe Finkle put it, a looming exam worth 40 per cent of one’s mark “takes top of mind.”
Still, students can be among the most engaged citizens: they form their own governments on campuses, organize, rally and hold politicians to account through social media: large, student-led demonstrations against tuition hikes in Quebec, the lively daily Twitter conversation or the recently launched Students Need to Vote campaign, which allows visitors to upload their own videos talking about the importance of voting to a “digital soap box.”
Yet on the whole, Canada’s youngest voters have earned a reputation for apathy. According to Elections Canada, only 37.4 per cent of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2008 election, by far the lowest percentage of any age group and substantially fewer than the 43.8 per cent who voted in 2006.
Boredom, or apathy?
Yet another in a long series of articles bemoaning low youth voter turnout. We can cite figures from past elections all we want, but this isn’t just a normal election - it’s a transformational election. We’re far from apathetic.
This year’s election isn’t about renewing a government’s mandate, as might be the case in a majority Parliament situation. But it’s not, and it hasn’t been for a while. We have some enormous decisions to make as a country in the next few years: health care transfer payments; being part of a worldwide economic recession, one that our cousins to the south and across the pond can’t seem to get out of; finding the money to reinvest in our educational system at all levels; climate change and developing new forms of energy; repairing our own broken prestige around the world; improving society so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed and to pursue their dreams. We have track records we can look back on: Liberal governments in the 90’s and early aughts, or the last five years of Conservative distractions. Students, for decades, haven’t been taken seriously as a voting bloc. As a group, we used to be respected, even feared. Past generations of youth elected progressive governments, demanded functional politics and helped to usher in revolutions in law and society. For better or worse, they even caused a former prime minister to essentially declare martial law on the citizens of his own province - and the effects of that crisis are still felt today, all across the country.
Calling our generation apathetic is a lazy insult and a weak justification to keep the voter turnout down (see: defeatism). Now boredom…we can be awakened from that particular slumber and unite to make our opinions and voices heard loud and clear, from sea to sea to sea and all the way back to Parliament Hill.
We have an entrenched civil right in our Charter to be heard and to have our votes counted. We have a right that we seemingly take for granted, a right that thousands of people are dying in cold blood for in certain parts of the world, even as I type this. We’re lucky to live in a free and democratic society, so start acting like it, and get out there and vote - exams and studying be damned.
Boredom? Apathy? Never.
I just want to ask, who in the hell has exams in May? May? Because that is when the election is, isn’t it? Oh, I see, you’re just trying to claim that we’re suffering from boredom and apathy. Oh fine, carry on.