Sweater-vests make me hurl: Young people and voting – not as boring as you might think!

Do you hate politics? Do attack ads and sweater-vests make you want to cap a bitch? Do you throw up a little in your mouth when you think about an election happening?

Well you’re not alone. The trend in recent elections has been a sharp drop in participation, most noticeably among young voters. While seniors vote so often that they’ve been known to write-in the name of their favourite candidate when signing for packages, and the middle aged troop to the ballot box with a muddled sense of duty instilled by their parents and that fifth grade civics teacher who scared the crap out of them, young people most often don’t bother.

And really, can you blame us? As my colleague Jason C. McLean wrote last week, if Stephen Harper isn’t a cyborg from another planet, he sure could pass for one. Then you have the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, who does stiff so well he could play a board on Broadway.

Source: Elections Canada

To read the mainstream media, these two winners (bi-winners?) are all the choice we have. Of course they agree about almost everything, from continental integration to the war in Iraq, so watching them attack each other is a pretty funny sight.

Michael Ignatieff:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in a fulminating fit of outrage! My less loquacious colleagues on the government benches wish to grant their friends in the corporate sector tax cuts, tax cuts I say! Of course their corporate friends are our corporate friends, and when the Liberals were in power we handed out corporate tax cuts like life preservers on the Titanic, but for the purposes of this election cycle, we are outraged by this unnecessary handout! Wink to our corporate friends in the gallery to let them know that we’ll pass the tax cuts as soon as we’re elected. Wait, was I supposed to read that part?

Stephen Harper:

Mr. Speaker, my long-winded colleague in the “recent arrivals” section of the House has impugned my honour. He knows full well that the Conservative Party of Canada is a party of principle! Why, before we stacked the Senate with Conservative hacks we were committed to its abolition! Just like electoral reform and transparency, we loved them in opposition and hate them in government!

All kidding aside, there’s not much to like in either the Conservatives or Liberals, especially for young progressives who actually want the country to be better for everyone, not just corporations. But even a party like the NDP, of which I am a card-carrying member, tends not to focus on youth-oriented platform points. The NDP’s new TV ad targets seniors for instance, but you’ll be unlikely to find one geared towards young people.

Whose fault is that? Well, kind of ours. Because we tend not to vote, political parties of all stripes feel safe ignoring us. After all, we can’t punish them at the ballot box, like those pesky seniors.

Some parties could give a fig newton about our concerns, while others, like the NDP, have policies that favour students and young people, like lowering tuition, raising the minimum wage and decriminalizing marijuana, but they don’t talk about them a lot.

Now, if you think that Canadian democracy, as presently constituted, is a pretty pale imitation of the real thing then I’m with you. If you think voting every four years in elections determined by corporate media and attack ads is no way to run a country, I agree. If you think no party represents you, and that they’re all a bunch of hypocritical sell-outs driven by polls and not principle, then I can understand.

But none of it is an excuse for not voting. Every young person who votes is sending a message. A message that all parties need to appeal to us, and our concerns. By not voting we make it easy to ignore us, no matter how many protests and rallies we organize.

There’s more than likely going to be an election this spring and I know who I’ll be voting for, and volunteering for, but no matter who you support (or don’t really support, but are willing to hold your nose for) you need to go vote. Vote, and make sure everyone knows you’re voting. As a demographic, we need to make our electoral presence felt.

Even if your party has no hope in your riding, by voting for them you’re giving them an extra couple bucks a year, which adds up.

On a more partisan note, check out the NDP. They’ve always been referred to as the party of conscience, and although they too can sometimes get caught up in the circus that is our politics, they tend to be on the right side of issues more often than not, and they’re sure as hell better than the LibCons.

They’ve been growing, slowly but steadily in Quebec, and look likely to triple their seat count in this province in the next election (to a total of three).

For me, elections are about picking the most progressive option and working to improve the things you don’t like about them. If we all joined the NDP tomorrow and fought to make the party more progressive, we could do it. Some parties make it easier for members to shape policy than others (Quebec Solidaire is a great example) but progressive parties tend to value citizen input and democratic decision-making more than the old school corporate parties.

At the end of the day if we don’t vote we’re not making a statement or acting on principle, we’re just letting the hacks that run the country laugh all the way to the electoral bank, their seats unthreatened by the power we have to effect change, of some order, if we would only vote.

I’ll discuss the other levels of politics in a future article, and the importance of a common front between the NDP, Quebec Solidaire and Projet Montreal in order to make real gains for ordinary (extraordinary?) people. But for now, I want to hear from you: do you plan on voting? Volunteering? If not, why not?

Leave your responses in the comments section; I’m curious to hear what you have to say

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  • You should check out this website http://www.apathyisboring.com
    Their aim is to increase youth voter turnout and help young people become “active citizens”.

    They also have a website where you can find out who your MP is and what they have voted on, said in the house of commons, ect http://www.citizenfactory.com

  • Hi D,

    Thanks for that, I’m familiar with Apathy is Boring, I was actually going to mention them but didn’t get around to it.


  • Fantastic work Ethan. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have serious NDP leanings myself, and get so frustrated when folks agree willing to complain but not to vote.

  • Thanks Megan! Well, it looks like we’ll be getting our chance to express ourselves (such as it is) soon!

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