MSU VP (Finance)
As many stirring campaigns have tried to address, the intersection of young people and politics is not at a high point. In the last two federal elections, voter turnout amongst 18-24 year-olds has hovered around 40 per cent, which I think is pretty pathetic. But while this is an issue frequently addressed, what is lesser-discussed but equally problematic is the harmful role that youth can play when they do engage in politics.
You would think that youth who are engaged in the political process would be the solution, but I think they are not. Young partisans – youth who are strong supporters of one political party – are making politics toxic, and driving their peers away from the political process.
Canadians are frustrated with political parties that simplify complex problems, painting their opponents as incompetent individuals with bad intentions. We are frustrated because we are an educated population, and election slogans that read, “my opponent is the worst” don’t motivate educated people to vote. These poor tactics are driving young people away from the voting booth, and young partisans deserve to shoulder some blame.
To be fair, young partisans are not the root of this problem, but they aid and abet as they deliver the party message to the public. Youth do not design election platforms or campaign strategies, but they mobilize them. Youth are the volunteers that work tirelessly during election campaigns, knocking on doors, passing out flyers, and delivering the message to the voter. This is where these young people are failing their peers; they aren’t pushing back against political authority.
We are the most educated generation ever. We are receiving world-class education that teaches us to think critically and challenge the status quo. We know that answers to complex problems are not often simple solutions that can be broken down into 140 characters, or 15-second sound bites.
Yet, while well intentioned, far too many of my peers’ involvement with the political process is merely to follow marching orders rather than to contribute critically and effectively to the party of their choosing. This kind of engagement with our political system is damaging and has led to a parliament where criticizing your leader in public is seen as a sign of weakness, rather than an act of courage.
I think it is fair to say that the political leaders of all three leading parties in Canada are pushing forward policy that does not capture the intelligence and thought of their young political volunteers.
Canadian politics are in a sorry state, and Canadians will continue to not show up at the ballot box until our youth hold political parties to a higher standard. Let’s push back against the assumption in Canadian politics that if you sign up for a political party, you support every single decision made by political leadership.
Advocate based on issues that are important to you, and let’s push to make political parties a reflection of our generation.