With education costs and youth employment rates on the table, Ontario youth leaders are working to encourage other young people to get out to the polls on June 12.
“There is a lot at stake in this election,” said Michelle Johnston, president of the Ontario Young Liberals. “I think a lot of people view politics as a separate entity in life that they can choose to acknowledge or not, but when you drill down you realize that it is real life.”
Johnston became involved in government after beginning her political science degree at the University of Toronto.
Changes to tuition grants, OSAP funding and minimum wage are a few of the issues directly affecting students in the upcoming election. Johnston emphasized the need for a personal student connection to these kinds of specific issues. This connection is key to increasing youth voter turnout, she said, a number that has been low in the past, but one Johnston said is changing.
According to Elections Canada, about 34 per cent of youth aged 18-24 voted in the 2008 federal election and 39 per cent in 2011.
“I don’t know what came first, low student voting or not talking to the students,” said Chantelle Ivanski, president and co-founder of Western’s New Democratic Party club.
Ivanski specified three main youth-related issues in the coming election, “putting a cap on tuition, getting rid of interest rates on student loans and making things like OSAP more accessible.”
In her recent experiences canvassing, Ivanski received many encouraging comments from locals on her involvement as a youth, regardless of whether they were voting NDP.
Richard Sookraj, a fourth-year Western student involved with the Progressive Conservatives, agreed youth involvement is important but he doesn’t predict a change in voter turnout on June 12 due to the timing. “I know from the student council perspective any campaign is challenging for this election because there’s nobody to speak to in the summer, everyone is dispersed,” he said.
Like Johnston, Sookraj said more dialogue specifically designed to youth issues is needed to increase voter turnout.
“Youth don’t look at the overall ideologies, we are issue-based voters,” said Sookraj.
One non-partisan organization aiming to increase voter turnout is the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, which launched a new campaign this year called Generation Vote. The campaign educates youth on the basics of voting and focuses on five major issues including tuition and schooling fees, ending unpaid internships and public transit funding.
“In the past, we’ve been responding to parties whereas this time we’re more constructive and put forward our own issues and then force the parties to respond,” said Alastair Woods, chair of the Federation.
Some student unions are taking initiative for the upcoming election, one being Fanshawe College, which will host its second ever on-campus polling station June 12.
Jessica Brook, vice-president external and academic affairs at the Fanshawe Student Union, said the goal is to “engage more students” and first-time voters. Brook herself will be a first-time voter, admitting she “knew nothing about advocacy or politics” before getting involved with the union and didn’t vote due to lack of awareness.
She said the key to getting informed is through engaging in conversation, between fellow students and political parties.
Woods, along with the student leaders, agreed these conversations are essential in increasing the youth voting rate.
“Young people don’t vote because they don’t see anything to vote for,” Woods said. “You can build a brighter future, but you have to do it with the people who are going to live in it.”