On August 15th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election to be held on September 20th after months of whispered rumors and speculations. Regardless of the political strategy behind the decision to call this election, Canadians are going to the polls in just a few days. One demographic that will play a huge role in determining our next Prime Minister and the federal policies over the next four years are young people.
Millennial and Gen Z voters make up the largest voting bloc but this election is not the first time that the federal government will be heavily influenced by the votes of Canadians born between 1980 and 2002. In the 2015 federal election, the youth vote increased more than any other bloc demonstrated by the growth between the 2011 turnout rate of 59% to 68% after two decades of negative trends. Despite the enormous power behind Canada’s youth bloc, the national candidates' platforms vary in their appeal to the issues most prevalent to people under 40. Since the last election in 2019, over 800,000 young Canadians are now eligible to cast their ballot. Topics like Canada’s job market, affordable housing, climate change, and social justice movements remain some of young people's most talked-about political concerns but there is a massive discrepancy in the federal candidates' appeal to students and young people overall.
In late August, Elections Canada announced their Vote on Campus program would not be offered for the 2021 election due to logistics even though the number of first-time voters increased substantially following the beginning of the program. Although Canada is still deeply influenced by COVID-19 with health and safety precautions remaining a priority, every eligible Canadian holds the inalienable right to vote within our democratic system. By removing polling stations on campuses, students from all intersections are disadvantaged and isolated from the political sphere that will have a huge impact on their future. Numerous organizations focused on increasing awareness around issues important to young people and students have spoken out about the struggle to access polling stations and also the risk for young people’s voices to go unheard. Many OUSA Steering Committee members also have ties to the federal lobbying body, Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU), who recently launched a campaign advocating for accessible voting options while simultaneously promoting informational materials. Although resources exist to inform students about voting in the riding of their university residence, a more difficult task is motivating young voters to seek information and head to the polls, especially when those polls are no longer easily accessible.
Off-campus, organizations like Apathy is Boring and X University’s Democratic Engagement Exchange have taken the lead on empowering young Canadian voters with information through digestible content on social media. Through their platform, Votetube, Future Majority has managed to gather information on the five major parties’ views on youth engagement, climate change, affordability, Indigenous reconciliation, and mental health care while covering the basics of voting. There are numerous other organizations with similar missions however the baseline remains that young people need to show up this election. If you didn’t have the time or resources to register in advance, you can still vote by doing so at the physical location assigned to you based on postal code. For people with disabilities who may require accommodations at a physical polling station, voting information is available in a variety of formats like large print, audio files, and braille. Additionally, Elections Canada has created a set of 37 criteria with every poll required to meet 15 specific criteria. If you need a specific accommodation that is not one of the 15 required for each station, you can be issued a Transfer Certificate to vote at a more accessible polling station. To do this, you will need to contact your local Elections Canada office.
The election is fast approaching but there is still ample time to make an informed decision and plan the best way to vote for you. Take the time to look into the parties running in your riding and read over their platforms. Although Prime Minister Trudeau has been questioned for his decision to call this election, Canadians really do have the final say in who will guide us out of the COVID-19 pandemic and through the next four years. The decisions we make now will have huge implications for future generations so it’s critical that we make voting accessible to all and that every eligible Canadian shows up to vote.
Written by Siobhan Teel, member of OUSA's Steering Committee and VP Education of McMaster Students Union.