Until we’re willing to change our politics, Canadian youth are opting out
Who can awaken the Canadian youth vote that sits on the sidelines? This is a question that keeps political science professors and media analysts going for days and days.
I’d say that it keeps political party strategists going as well, but it doesn’t. Frankly, they’re quite happy with the current state of affairs.
Canadians under 35 don’t vote. By and large, they don’t see the point.
What’s needed to change that is a wholesale upending of the way we do politics, not finding a leader for whom Canadian youth will swoon.
That was the baby boomer generation, still waiting to be swept off its feet again as it was when it was young.
What do today’s young Canadians want changed?
They want nebulous talk about “values” to be put in the dumpster. “Canadian values” and “middle-class values” (you’ll hear a lot about both of these this fall) are phrases that are meaningless — and they know it.
Talk to them about specifics. The specifics of the labour market. The specifics of the housing situation. The specifics of transportation. The specifics of food and energy security. The specifics of environmental degradation and remediation. The specifics of pot legalization. On and on the list goes, but what it doesn’t contain is wooly-headed sound bites.
It contains real policy proposals — you know, the kind that make enemies as well as friends — and don’t sound focus-group tested six ways to Sunday until all the exciting bits have been done away with.
Never assume, by the way, that Canadian youth are monolithically left-wing. They’re not. But neither do they fit nicely into pre-existing stereotypes. Real young Canadians that vote are those that fit themselves into one or another of the existing camps. The majority, who don’t, reject camp thinking. They blur categories, they disturb today’s thinking.
They also ask disturbing questions. Why don’t Conservatives conserve? Why are Liberals against individual liberty? If you’re joined at the hip with every union and cause, what’s either new or democratic about the NDP?
Canadian youth want their vote to count. Electing someone who’ll slavishly follow a party line, never thinking for themselves, is a waste of time, in their view. That’s why they won’t go.
Canadian youth know that just as their circle of friends isn’t monolithic, so, too, communities aren’t. That’s why they support alternative voting systems and eschew our first-past-the-post system. Not because they support the minor parties, and think they “ought” to be represented, but because the people they disagree with but their neighbours back should be heard just as much as the people they agree with.
What they want is a politics that flows from issue to issue, rather than jams itself into labels and a leader-driven whipped caucus of sheep.
Oh, and when promise time rolls around, they roll their eyes. They know there’s no money. They know that a promise to “fix the pension problem” or “fix the health care system” is a promise to fix the system the boomers and their aged parents know and love, not to make sure it’s all still running smoothly and well for their generation, or the one that follows them.
Canadian youth know they’re there to pay taxes and get nothing, and — surprise! — that doesn’t make them want to take part. Why give those who benefit from things as they are the sanction of the victim?
So ignore the social media nonsense about “reaching out to youth”, ignore the “younger generation” trivia about leaders, ignore the “reach for a toke, I do” analysis of how this issue or that will get the young voters of Canada to actually vote.
It’s all nonsense. Until the system changes, Canadian youth are staying out of it.