Mavis Chan (middle) interviews a student at the University of Waterloo. 

Why Voting Matters

Analyzing youth voter engagement and the current role of political parties in youth outreach

“Are you planning to vote for the upcoming Federal Election? What issues are motivating you to vote?”

“Are you planning to vote for the upcoming Federal Election? What issues are motivating you to vote?”

As part of a get-out-the-vote startup that I’ve been running for the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time asking University of Waterloo students that question. Last week, I walked around campus for a few hours engaging with a random sample of students as part of our last marketing push before the election.

Some people have told me straight up they are disinterested in politics and refuse to engage, which already answers the first question. But the majority did say yes to the first question, or at least show a hesitant interest in doing so.

As to the second question, while there are few individuals with adamantly passionate political views, others are a bit shier, unsure of what to say at such an open-ended question.

But after being given a moment to think, most of the students I spoke to did have an answer. Everyone I’ve spoken to, even if they don’t know exactly what they want, seems to be able to relate in one way or another despite not being sure where to start. And I really do understand their perspective, sometimes finding it difficult to grasp the complex issues of our time myself.I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people responding ‘yes’ to the first question, given that youth voter turnout was at 38.8 percent in 2011. As for the second question, I did expect that it would be harder to answer. Perhaps the hesitation is what explains the lack of passionate, spearheaded visible engagement from young people when it comes to politics. As criticized by the older generation and even called out by Canadian comedian and television figure, Rick Mercer, Millennials today are not quite engaged enough in the issues of our time. Unlike previous generations, we grew up in an environment where democracy and free speech was handed to us, which probably explains why we take it for granted.

To engage young voters, politicians need to translate the impact of their policies on the issues that young people care about. We need to know how cutting public spending on certain sectors or shifting tax rates can impact their futures. In turn, by voting, young people can show that they care about where they want the government to invest in jobs, or even what kind of value or belief system they want to see the country run by.

Based on the conversations I’ve had, I know that young voters are not as apathetic as they are portrayed to be.  In fact, it’s been incredibly inspiring to hear what people have to say after I open the right door to get these conservations started. Whether it’s through wanting a job in a certain industry, promoting equality in some shape or form, or asking for accountability and transparency in the way things are run in this country.

What each party is doing

While I personally don’t feel as though any of the parties have done enough to speak to youth issues specifically, I do commend some of them on aspects of their platforms addressing youth and some of them on their engagement efforts.

The Conservatives have been cutting taxes for businesses to create jobs for post-secondary graduates and apprenticeships. They have also made significant investments towards funding for research-chairs across Canada to provide post-secondary students academic research opportunities. While there is a local Waterloo chapter for Young Conservatives, I’m unsure what has been done in terms of outreach to youth.

In terms of the Liberal Party, I attended Justin Trudeau’s talk last October (of 2014) when he spoke with students at the University of Waterloo campus.

Recently, the Liberals have promised to create more co-op placements for students, especially those in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs. They plan to increase the maximum allowance for grants for low-income post-secondary students and have announced that students won’t have to start paying off their loans until they start earning an income of over $25,000.

The NDP’s have promised to phase out interest on student loans, creating up to 50,000 new grants with an overall plan to make post-secondary education more affordable.

The Young NDP of the Waterloo chapter keeps an active Facebook page, I’m also unsure of what’s been done on by the New Democratic Party as a whole on engaging youth.

The Green Party’s campaign promises include continuing to support funding for research chairs and eliminating post-secondary tuition, as well as a focus on creating jobs for youth with a national employment strategy. I also saw local Waterloo riding candidate, Richard Walsh, walking around on clubs day to speak with UW students.

However, much more can be done from each front, as even I myself, as someone who has spent a lot of time in the policy field, isn’t aware of the youth-specific outreach efforts.

Learn more about how whyVOTE and Mavis Chan are challenging young Canadians to go out and vote here

Mavis Chan is a fourth-year Environmental and Business undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo. She was a former business volunteer at A\J.