According to a Statistics Canada post-federal election report released February 22, Canadian youth (aged 18-24) hit the ballots in record numbers, which helped increase the overall voter turnout to the highest level in 25 years.
Comparing the 2011 and 2015 elections, the number of Canadians who reported that they voted increased 12 percentage points among people aged 18 to 24, and 11 percentage points among those aged 25 to 34. In 2011, 54.6 per cent of voters aged 18-24 voted in the Federal Election, while 66.9 per cent voted in 2015. For those aged 25-34, 58.7 per cent voted in 2011, and 69.8 per cent voted in 2015.
“The Stats Canada report confirms what we saw at campuses across the province during the election: Students were interested, students were involved, and students wanted to help make a difference,” said Simka Marshall, chairperson of the BC Federation of Students in a press release. “Together we sent a powerful message to the skeptics and the cynics: Young Canadians do care about being part of the solution, and we’re stepping forward in record numbers. Don’t underestimate this generation.”
The VIU Young Greens, VIU NDP Club, and the Young Liberals in Nanaimo were all active during the election season in encouraging voter turnout. Conservative representatives were continuously absent at campaign events held at the university.
Chair of the VIU NDP club Trevor Dickinson and Young Liberal (a partisan organization not associated with the VIUSU) Avi Dixit believe the largest factor of the increased youth vote was the overall feeling towards Stephen Harper’s Conservatives among youth.
“The Conservatives’ relentless attacks on the environment added seriousness to this election that drew youth to the polls, particularly in BC,” Dickinson said. “I believe the Conservatives underestimated how much young voters care about the environment. The vast majority of Canadians wanted Harper out, and they flocked to the polls to make sure of it.”
Dixit also highlighted the unemployment rates for youth under the Conservatives and “a government which tried to oppress the people by trying to alienate them from their constitutional rights” as factors that encouraged youth to head to the polls. “The biggest thing I did to persuade people to vote was talking to them about the issues that affected them the most,” Dixit said.
In the 2017 provincial election, many will look to youth and whether their numbers will be well-represented again. “I expect to see a large increase in voter turnout among students,” Dickinson predicts. “Under the BC Liberal government, tuition fees have skyrocketed, making a university degree far more difficult to attain.”
Avery Bonner, also a Young Liberal and member of the VIU Political Society, believes the responsibility of continuing youth engagement lies in both the youth and government leaders’ hands. “I think it is up to the youth to work hard to engage other youth, but it is also just as important for institutions and government to provide the information and programs necessary to keep Canada’s youth politically engaged,” he said. “In the end, it all comes down to demographics and generations.”
Dixit is optimistic that this trend will continue. He says he has seen a higher political engagement from youth not only in Canada, but also in the US, as he recently visited Iowa to canvas for Hilary Clinton.
“Social media and our interconnectedness with the world through the internet help us keep track of current events,” he said. “It’s making us more aware and educated about the world we live in. This election I have found my friends who are not at all political to be much more informed and engaged in the election process than they were in the 2011 election.”
Dickinson agreed, saying he believes the youth vote is capable of continuing to grow.
“If the Liberal government keeps their election promise to replace the ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system with a form or proportional representation, I think we will see voter turnout among students continue to grow,” he said. “Seldom did a day go by during that marathon election campaign that the people around me did not talk about politics. I believe that energy is going to carry forward to the 2017 provincial election.”