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Young, potential voters avoiding polls

Potential voters say 'nothing's going to change'

Simon Van Der Valk is 18 years old and moved to Whistler from Parry Sound, Ont. seven months ago.

Tomorrow marks the first time he can vote, ever, just squeaking in with his age and residency requirements.

But Van Der Valk won't be going to the polls in Whistler.

"It doesn't really matter," he said, standing outside IGA in the Marketplace during a break.

"Nothing's going to change."

Van Der Valk's age demographic, the young voters in Whistler, usually remain a group conspicuous by their absence at the polls and other political events.

They give a variety of reasons for their apathy, from lack of knowledge, to lack of interest, to being busy with other things.

"It's a difficult time for our age group to vote," said Sara Aldridge, who is 30 years old and the residence life supervisor at Whistler-Blackcomb.

She says many people have just arrived in town and they're focused on things like finding a job and a place to stay, rather than thinking about the municipal elections.

"People probably have other priorities."

To be eligible to vote residents must be living in Whistler for the last 30 days and living in B.C. for the last six months.

But even those people, who have been calling Whistler home for years and are not faced with the daunting and immediate challenges of finding a job and a home, are now heading into their busy season.

Carlos Strachan, 31, works at Comor Sports in the village and has been busy at work for the past two weeks with a big sale. It hasn't allowed him a lot of time to keep up-to-date on election coverage.

"I'm thinking about (voting) but I'm very ignorant about who is running," he said.

Aldridge also said she's trying to find the time to vote on Saturday even though she's swamped with work at the Whistler-Blackcomb residences.

"I'm hoping that my voice would count in the scheme of things," she said.

If Aldridge gets to the polls tomorrow it will be the first time she will have cast her vote in Whistler. She did not vote in the last municipal elections three years ago.

Only 41 per cent of registered voters went to the polls in 1999.

Before election day that year slightly more than 200 people voted in the advanced polls.

The numbers are up this time around.

According to Brenda Sims, chief election officer at the municipality, 336 people have voted to date. That number takes into account the two advance polls in Whistler and one in West Vancouver.

Just over 200 people cast their vote in Whistler on Saturday, Nov. 9 alone.

This year's vote is between two mayoral candidates, 18 council candidates running for six positions and four school trustees running for two positions.

Of the 18 candidates running for council there is only one, Rick André who is in his 20s. Tyler Mosher is the next youngest at 30 years old.

Some say this under representation of their age group by the candidates running for council means the voices of the young are not being heard.

"Give the youth audience 'a want' to vote," said Tyler Odgers from behind the counter at Westbeach.

He said his vote isn't going to change anything and so he's exercising his option not to vote.

"As much as I do love the idea of democracy, I'm also one of those people who think that one vote isn't going to make a difference," he said.

"It's the worst attitude, I fully know that."

Odgers has been living in Whistler for a little over two years now. He's 21 years old.

"Maybe I've only had the option to vote for a while so I'm just getting into the swing of things," he mused.

Odgers has another reason for bowing out of the process. He's not planning on sticking around for a long time.

"I'm probably only going to be here another five months. It won't really affect me."

Many young people in Whistler who are eligible vote don't plan on extending their time in Whistler beyond one or two seasons and so they don't have a vested interest in the future of the resort.

Thirty-year-old Toby Matkowski hasn't voted in any elections prior to this year. He has been living in Whistler for the past 10 years and now works at Katmandu part-time and also at one of the property management companies.

"If I'm going to stay here another 10 years I want to have some kind of say on how it goes," he said.

"Most of my friends are not going to vote. They don't pay attention to it. I'm not going to let that hold me back."

Even if they are not going to make it out to the polls, most admit that they should be voting.

"I know I should," said Christy Mack, who has been working at Lotus Art Supplies for almost a year.

"I said this year that I was going to vote but I haven't been following up on it."

Twenty-four-year old Mack has never voted before and while she has been following some of the election coverage, she hasn't been really paying attention to the finer details.

She says it's bad that her age demographic does not have more of a presence at the polls.

"A lot of them are complaining about certain situations in Whistler and yet we're not doing anything about it when we could be making a huge difference."

Most cited housing as the biggest issue in this campaign.

"It's pretty gnarly," said Odgers of his housing situation, and as he thought about a little more he added: "I should probably vote."

That's not to say all young people are not voting.

Jean-Michel Tremblay is 30 and works for Affinity Sports. He has never missed an election, seeing it as his duty as a citizen.

"It's the first basic right of democracy," he said.

When asked if he was frustrated by the lack of participation of his generation he said: "It's part of democracy as well."

Tremblay, however, lives in Squamish and will be voting there.

At the other end of the Whistler spectrum, seniors are taking a very active role in the municipal elections.

The Mature Action Committee, which is made up of about 40 members, polled the 20 election candidates on their position regarding affordable housing, and more specifically seniors housing.

MAC has been looking for suitable land to build a retirement home in Whistler.

Fifteen candidates replied and their responses were sent to all MAC members.

"Certainly we've talked to most of our members and they're certainly very interested in the election," said MAC chair Gordon Leidal.

The members are also kept abreast of the issues around the campaign, he said.

"We send out a regular, what we call MAC News, and we send that out to our members on a regular basis. They had one as recently as three weeks ago so we stay in communication."

There is no society like MAC, which targets a younger audience.

"I think as far as campaigning goes, if someone tries to target the youth audience... I think it would be a gold mine," said Odgers.

Early in the election campaign Whistler Off Road Cycling Association held an informal all candidates meeting for its members. The event was also open to the general public.

"I think it was probably more successful than the other all candidates meeting but we were actually surprised at the number of, I hate to use the term, older folk, that showed up," said Bob Lorriman, WORCA's membership director.

About 50 WORCA members were at the meeting in addition to 107 non-WORCA members.

"The WORCA thing helped," added Lorriman.

"But I would have liked to see more younger people. Because it was a first go around nobody really knew what to expect. I think the next election, if WORCA does it again, there may be a better turnout."

As a first shot, Lorriman said it was a good way of reaching out to the younger community who makes up a big part of the WORCA membership.

Another event, which may bring out the younger voters, was the Whistler. It's Our Future workshops earlier in the fall.

Aldridge was involved in the two Whistler. It's Our Future youth workshops, acting as a facilitator at the meetings. She said it was a good way to hear about certain issues and get up to date on the challenges facing the community.

"After living here for seven years and becoming a part of the community, the more I care about where I live and where other people live," she said.

Kristy Mulholland is 18 years old and moved to Whistler from White Rock in June. Saturday will be the first time Mulholland is eligible to vote and she's planning on taking advantage of it.

"I think if you don't vote then you don't have a say," she said, working behind the counter at Lush.

"I'm concerned about affordable housing and that Whistler stays as fun and really down to earth and that it stays a local community."

Standing in the rain outside the IGA, Van Der Valk said he's fine with things staying the same in Whistler because he likes things the way they are.

He's more concerned about the hill opening up than he is about the municipal elections.

"I'm only 18 so I got a couple of years to screw around. I don't really care about it."




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