I have taken my kids to the voting booth pretty well every time there is an election of any kind.
I have gone as far as voting early to make sure they can come. I take them to election candidate forums, and I discuss politics at the dinner table.
Am I sure they will vote? No. (Full disclosure: neither teen is old enough to vote yet.)
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many youth don't vote purely because they are unfamiliar with the process and intimidated by it. That's why the decision by Elections Canada in partnership with Canadian Federation of Students to have Pop-Up polling stations across Canada at universities and colleges is such a great idea.
And its why I've "dragged" my kids to the polls — let's get them familiar with the system.
The Pop-up voting stations were open until today, Oct. 8, a day before advance polling begins.
It also allowed students to vote for candidates in their home ridings, from anywhere in Canada.
For weeks we have been hearing about the dismal youth voter turnout in the 2011 election — 38 per cent — and shaking our heads about what can be done.
(In the 1970s, it wasn't unusual to have a total participation rate of around 80 per cent, and a youth participation rate of 70 per cent.)
But it just doesn't seem that difficult to me to understand this. For the most part youth aren't voting because they don't trust any one politician over another — to youth they all seem to act the same way once in power — and the issues on the table locally and nationally don't resonate with them.
From the conversations I've had, youth are very concerned about their employment, about climate change — since this generation is basically downloading the issue onto them — about access to education, public and sustainable transportation, online voting, student debt and even alternative ways to participate in democracy.
The political parties are for the most part targeting their messaging at middle-class voters at the older end of the spectrum — and there are more of them, as there are more Canadians aged 55 to 64 than there are aged 15 to 24. Thirty years ago, the younger cohort was twice the size of the older one.
For this older segment it's all about weathering retirement, or staying afloat until you get to retirement.
Some pundits have floated the idea that the Stephen Harper Conservatives have purposely avoided reaching out to youth, as their votes could seriously upset any chance the Conservatives have of winning, so poorly is the party viewed by this slice of the population.
There is no doubt that society is changing, yet the messages from today's parties seem like a re-run video from days past.
Youth are settling down at an older age, having kids much later. Many are unable to buy a house, or are not really interested in doing so; they are finding their career paths much later in life, and many live at home well into their late 20s. They are not driven by concerns over how the healthcare system is working, or if parks, roads, schools and libraries are maintained like the typical taxpayer of the previous generation.
They also move... a lot. So making the actual process of voting difficult will just keep them away from the ballot box as well.
And it doesn't help that changes to The Fair Elections Act made last year mean that Elections Canada cannot address the issue of lower turnout among young voters through advertising and other promotional campaigns — such advertising was deemed undemocratic because it might benefit one party over another.
However, even with all these factors in the mix, the overriding obstacle to strong youth voter turnout still appears to be that most young voters just don't see anyone worth voting for.
And Canadian youth are not alone in these patterns.
A long-running European survey found that in 2008, 22 per cent of French 15 to 24 year-olds said they believed society's problems could be fixed only by revolutionary action.
In 1990 the equivalent figure was just seven per cent.
When charismatic politicians do appear, they can win over the young. We only need to look south of the border to see the reality of that — Barack Obama would not have been elected in 2008 and 2012 had it not been for remarkably high youth turnout in his favour.
All of this is enough to feel like the use of the word crisis when describing the youth voter situation is not an exaggeration.
Making the situation even more serious is the finding of a 2013 Parliament of Canada study which concluded that young voters' apathy is permanent — they actually don't even start voting as they get older — one of the key reasons the average participation rate in Canada is dropping.
The last word goes to the Conservatives — and if you can't figure out why they aren't getting the youth vote after reading this, well....
This is from a Conservative pamphlet at the student union at the University of Calgary. On one side it says, "Let the lefties run your campus, help the Conservatives run the country."
On the other side it says, "Dropping taxes for families, dropping bombs on ISIS, dropping crooks in jail."
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