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Children of the new millennium are defying stereotypes and throwing themselves into politics. Some are happy to indulge in old-style politics, but more are interested in changing the way the game is played.
GETTING INVOLVED, GETTING EXPERIENCE
By Paul O'Connell
The next time you’re tempted to complain about how shiftless and apathetic young people are, you might want to rethink. Young people in Canada’s electorate, and in voting populations all over western democracies, are now in a position to wield serious influence.
And they’re not shy about doing so.
Last Friday, in the first week of our Deep Dive into Next Generation politics, we pointed out two important facts:
• Voter turnout of young people in Canada surged to 58 per cent, an increase of 18 per cent over the 2011 election.
• The millennial cohort, roughly those between 18-40, mostly children of baby boomers, are now the largest age group in Canada’s electorate.
That turnout delivered a strong majority, somewhat of a surprise, to the youthful leader of the Liberal party, Justin Trudeau. Youth turnout in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections was the highest in decades.
In recent years, according to “Why we should pay attention to the power of youth,” a commentary on the op-ed website The Conversation, youth movements have moved the needle on issues like gun control in the U.S., university tuition increases in Quebec and sex education in Ontario.
But more to the point, we should care about what young people think and pay attention to the issues that are important to them, because indications are that they are tired of having the political agenda being dictated to them by their elders. The best way to change that, of course, is to vote, forcing politicians to address the issues that are important to you.
There are two big issues that young voters have told us matter the most to them. The first can be no surprise: the environment. Young people have more of a stake in the future than their elders, and if we’re fouling the planet to the point where climate change is irreversible, they have the right to insist to the rest of us that something be done.
The second was a bit of a surprise: the cost of housing. But when you think about it, young people are trying to establish careers and start families and if you’re based in Canada’s largest cities, home ownership is unrealistic for most. We’ll deal with those two issues in next week’s Deep Dive installment.
This week, we profile several young difference-makers who have decided that just voting wasn’t enough. They had to get involved in politics. For these young volunteers, organizers and candidates, that involvement starts with knocking on doors, driving voters to polls, and in some cases, electoral victory.
– Jordan Brown
CASE STUDY: Youth vote contributed to upset in Labrador West
By David Maher
Jordan Brown knew he had an uphill battle towards a seat in the Newfoundland and Labrador’s House of Assembly.
Brown, 29, was up against Liberal cabinet minister Graham Letto in the May 16 election, in a district the New Democratic Party had won twelve years before.
According to Statistics Canada, around 20 per cent of the population of the district is under 35.
He had to use every advantage he had to make a credible shot for the seat. One of those advantages was 20-year-old Nathan Hall.
Brown says he gave Hall one job on his campaign: get young people out to vote.
“That’s all I told him to do. Just the young people. Go look after the young people and make sure they get out to vote,” said Brown.
In general, young Canadians have a more positive view of politics and politicians, according to the Samara Centre for Democracy
“When the polls opened, to the polls’ close, he was making calls to people who said they would vote. He was getting his friends to call their friends – it was almost like an old-fashioned phone tree.”
On advance polling day, Hall got in his truck and personally drove as many young people as he could find to the polling stations.
Brown estimates that Hall’s efforts got 150 out to vote on advance polling day alone.
“Even on election day, the people that he couldn’t get on advance day he picked up election day. People that voted on advance day called him on election day and offered their help,” said Brown.
On election night on May 16, Brown saw his efforts and the significant efforts of Hall pay off. Brown was declared the new member of the House of Assembly by five votes. A judicial recount upheld the results, but brought the margin of victory to just two. Brown credits Hall’s efforts of directly engaging with young people in the district as one of the keys to his narrow, improbable victory.
Brown says politicians need to learn to communicate better with young voters to show them just how important their ballot really is.
“Bring yourself to their level. Talk them to them as they want to be talked to. Bring relevancy, don’t bombard them with facts and figures. Bring a relevant message to them,” said Brown.
“Don’t talk down to them, talk to them.”
– Gina Grattan
Students buried in debt need something to change
By Andrea Gunn
Gina Grattan, 22, first dipped her toes in political activism while studying sustainability and English at the University of King's College in Halifax.
“I did a lot of organizing around free tuition and education and so that kind of led me to get involved with the NDP, because obviously, that's one of their key beliefs, that education should be free,” Grattan said.
“That's kind of how I made the segue into politics, because it's kind of a tangible way to make a difference and to stand up . . . for the values I believe in.”
Grattan’s job as a volunteer co-ordinator is to get the ball rolling ahead of the writ period and create a base of volunteers for NDP candidate Christine Saulnier’s campaign.
As a student campaigning in a student town, Grattan said she finds it easy to connect with other young people about issues that affect her generation.
“When we're going door to door the things we're hearing the most is students are buried in debt and something definitely needs to change.”
Another area Grattan said her peers are extremely passionate about is climate change, something she thinks is driving a new era of political engagement for young people.
“The youth do want to get involved [...] we actually had a couple of high schoolers who just randomly showed up to volunteer one day, I was like ‘this is incredible,’” she said.
Grattan said she believes lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 -- something the NDP has pushed for -- would significantly improve youth political engagement.
“I do think that we're kind of seeing how we're being affected more and more directly than maybe in the past [...] I think that itself is like a change within the past couple of years and I think that's propelling youth voters to push for things,” she said.
– Brie Dukeshire
NEXT WAVE: Green issues a magnet for young voters
She’s just the type of person that political parties, like the Green Party, will be hoping to sway in not only this election, but many elections to come.
Brie Dukeshire does a little bit of everything with the Green Party in Halifax, working on Jo-Anne Roberts’ campaign. She’s helping to convene a youth caucus and recruit young volunteers.
Dukeshire said a lot of the young people she interacts with say they like that the Greens don’t have any whipped votes -- meaning each MP represents their constituents and not the party line.
“Young people really like to hear that, because sometimes they think that their vote doesn’t really count,” Dukeshire said.
Dukeshire also said that the Green Party’s recent rise in the polls has a lot to do with young people giving them a closer look. Also, environmental issues continue to dominate the headlines, attracting even more attention to the Greens.
“Even when going door-to-door and a lot of what I’m hearing is older people talking about their grandchildren’s activism and middle-aged folks talking about their university-aged children looking at their future and worrying about climate change,” she said. “I think it shows that the activism is starting to permeate into other generations as well.”
In the 2015 election, the voter turnout among younger voters saw a huge spike, and Dukeshire is hoping that momentum continues in 2019 and beyond.
In her view, more young voters will likely mean more Green voters.
“I think the Green Party does a uniquely good job at getting young people out to vote,” she said.
– Anthony Edmonds
Party switch aligns with vision for future
By Andrea Gunn
28-year-old Anthony Edmonds is not a newbie to political involvement. An aerospace engineer by day in 2017, he ran unsuccessfully for the Nova Scotia Greens in the Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank byelection, and prior to that he was involved in volunteering and campaigning for the NDP since his teen years.
“I always enjoyed it and felt it was part of my civic duty, if that's not too cheesy,” he said. “It’s always something that I felt like more people should do.”
The switch away from the NDP came from a difference in opinion over some policy positions. Eventually Edmonds found that his beliefs better aligned with the Green Party, though he doesn’t consider himself a diehard partisan, or an environmentalist.
“I see decisions being made that, regardless of whether or not you really care about polar bears, are just going to have very real consequences down the road and (in) a very undeniable way. And to me that's just reckless,” he said.
“I'm at a point in my life now where many millennials are where I'm really seriously thinking about starting a family and I realized that I can't in good conscience bring another person into the world without doing everything in my power to make sure that they're actually going to be able to live a good life. I want to look at my future children in the eye and tell them. ‘Look, I tried.’ ”
Though he has an extensive background in community service and political activism, Edmonds said he still gets grief from folks who think he’s too young to be on the ballot.
“I had lots of people telling me I should dress a particular way or you should use this particular language so that you'll appear older because young people don't get elected very often,” he said.
Edmonds, however, said he refused to censor himself and is proud to be a fresh, young voice in politics.
“I am a young person, that's what I am, and there's nothing wrong with that.”
– Logan McLellan
Got complaints? Do something about it
By Andrea Gunn
Though he’s always had a keen interest in the political process, Logan McLellan never imagined he’d be running for member of Parliament at 26 years old.
McLellan, a financial advisor by trade, said he spent about a year considering getting involved in politics before finally deciding to go for it last October, and he said it was actually his background in finance that inspired his decision.
As a young person living in P.E.I., McLellan said he sees first-hand the need for good-paying jobs in the region.
“I was seeing a lot of issues across the board from that side of things, the cost of living and different aspects of life for really affecting the everyday individual in my riding,” he said. “Rather than just complaining about it, I decided that I should step up and be a part of some of the solutions.”
McLellan, whose election team is comprised mostly of people under 30, said younger people engage differently in the political process than their older counterparts, with social media being a crucial part of that. He said it’s important for politicians to understand how to communicate with their younger constituents in a way that reaches them.
“As a millennial and with gen Z as the next generation, generally they vote every single day on social media -- that's whether they like a photo, comment on a post, or ignore a post,” he said. “So if we can translate that over the political process I think we'd be farther ahead than we are right now.”
– Mitchell MacDonald
Ready to sweep Scheer away
By Fram Dinshaw
At first glance, Mitchell MacDonald seems a typical 21st century teenager sporting a T-shirt and neatly-combed brown hair.
But this modest-looking young man is also a keen volunteer for the federal Liberals in his hometown Glace Bay, driven by an urge to defeat a Conservative Party he says is backward-looking.
“It’s the hateful and vile social views,” said MacDonald of Tory leader Andrew Scheer. “I just don’t understand how a leader who’s 40 has views that are still stuck in the 1950s. I just don’t understand how he can do so little on the environment and blatantly ignore the science and the carbon tax that science has proven to work.”
MacDonald pointed to Scheer’s stance on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights as examples of what he sees as Tory regressiveness. This week, a video from 2005 surfaced showing Scheer voicing opposition to marriage equality.
He said his own party supports both women’s rights and the LGBTQ+, while protecting the economy and overseeing consistent economic growth while fighting climate change.
MacDonald decided to join the federal Liberals thanks in part to his neighbour Geoff MacLellan, who serves as government house leader for the provincial party.
MacDonald attended his first Liberal meeting in 2017 and after meeting other party members decided to get involved.
His local MP is Liberal Rodger Cuzner, who was first elected in 2000, the year MacDonald was born. The riding of Cape Breton-Canso has long been seen as a Liberal bastion.
However, with Cuzner now retiring, the Conservatives are eyeing a chance to take the riding come Oct. 21, even as MacDonald and his fellow Liberals rally to keep them out.
The Tories are playing up recent controversies such as that surrounding Trudeau’s handling of the SNC Lavalin affair.
This saw attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, principal secretary Gerald Butts and former cabinet Jane Philpott leave his government. The prime minister was found to have improperly pressured Wilson-Raybould over a deferred prosecution agreement regarding SNC Lavalin’s contracts in Libya, occurring just before the 2011 revolution.
MacDonald said while such matters were challenging, he was confident the Liberals will have “the upper hand,” against Scheer, “once people see the way he is.”
“We need to elect another Liberal majority government on Oct. 21,” said MacDonald. “We have the choice to continue to move forward under Justin Trudeau, or backwards under Andrew Scheer.”
BY THE NUMBERS
That’s the number of people aged 25-34 who told Statistics Canada in 2013 that the main reason they didn’t vote was that they were not informed on issues.
The second-most common reason people aged 25-34 gave for not voting was that they were too busy.
That’s the percentage of Canadians aged 25-34 who told Statistics Canada they signed a petition in 2013.
That’s the percentage of 18-29 year olds who are satisfied with how MPs do their jobs. That’s higher than 30-55 year olds (53%) and 56-plus (50%)
That’s the percentage of 18-29 year olds who trust MPs to do what’s right, again a higher rate than older voters (35-plus, 50%)
That’s the percentage of 18-29 year olds who trust political parties to do what’s right; more trusting than older voters (30-55, 45%; 56-plus, 42%)
That’s the percentage of millennials who use social media as their most common source of news and current events. Television (53%), online news platforms (51%), radio (38%) and newspapers (28%) followed.
That’s the percentage of millennials who most closely follow safety and security issues in the news. Next was politics (31%), economy (12%) and social issues (10%).
That’s the percentage of millennials who check the news many times per day (25%) or at least once per day (30%). 14% said they rarely or never do.
That’s how many millennials have high (43%) or medium (36%) confidence in Canadian institutions. 77% have high or medium confidence in our health care system. At the bottom is major corporations, with just 49%.
Green issues and the cost of housing dominate the concerns millennials have that Canada’s political parties should be addressing.
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Read the whole series here - Next Gen Voters