Why young Canadians don’t vote

By Michael Jankovic

Much has been made in the past weeks about the lack of political participation among Canadian youth, specifically about their lack of interest in casting a vote and being part of the democratic process. Almost everyone participating in the debate looks upon the situation as disgraceful, pathetic or a sign of the decay of Canadian society.

Meanwhile, the consensus among youth is it is entirely acceptable not to vote.

Those who do vote often cast their ballot not out of genuine interest in the future of Canada, but instead they vote because they feel it is their duty, passed on by their parents, to do so. There are multitudes of excuses for not voting, most of them include not having the time. Voting is just not a priority for most young people.

How has this become the case? Even more intriguing, does it really matter?

A major reason why young people in Canada have stopped voting is because Canadian politics is devoid of ideas. In fact, ideas have no place in Canadian politics. The major issues of Canadian politics–health care, intergovernmental relations, education, defense policy–are not about what we should do, they are centered on what we can do. This situation makes for a detached, intellectual and, more often than not, dry debate of most issues.

But maybe politics in Canada should not be exciting. Maybe politics in Canada should be devoid of prescriptions for the world. Maybe we should focus on what is practical, rather than what is possible. History’s most terrible tyrants focused on possibility rather than practicality.

In Canada, the most compelling idea in human history, freedom, has been achieved. We are by no means a Utopia, but maybe we are as close to a Utopia as reality will allow us to be. In this state of affairs, our comfort breeds our complacency.

It is a two way street.

On the one hand, politicians are not willing to come to us with new ideas. On the other, we are not especially inclined to accept new ideas if they are offered to us.

Our sense of irony is so entrenched that it proscribes ideas like honour, brotherhood, nation, even duty as laughable artifacts of another age. This irony protects us from the mistakes of other generations, while at the same time leaving us hollow and alone.

The only ideas that capture the Canadian heart are freedom and independence, and neither of these are being denied to us by not voting. Our self-interest is not served by heading to the polls; thus, because of the freedom democracy helped us to achieve, we go to a movie instead of a voting booth.

We see an opposition party that opposes people rather than policy. They launch attacks on the corrupt practices of Liberal MPs. Most young Canadians remain unmoved because they see politics as a corrupt practice. They look around the world and see political corruption in every government office of every country, and say “A trip to a fishing lodge? I just don’t care. Politics is corrupt. Why should I be surprised to find those practicing politics are themselves corrupt?”

There are limits to the corruption Canadians will accept, but they have not been reached by this Liberal government. A campaign focusing on governmental waste will never win over young Canadians because we accept waste as a necessary feature of any political system.

Democracy is the ultimate weapon in keeping government accountable to the people it serves. It is true democracy has other benefits and important implications, but at this moment in Canadian history the only appeal of voting is that of accountability. A plurality of Canadian voters and non-voters cannot justify ousting a government unless it commits a grievous affront to Canadian values.

Not voting is just as much an approval of the status quo as voting for an incumbent. The scandals produced by the opposition–a government loan, a fishing trip, buying a Canadian-made plane–these are not enough to compel change or votes.

I reject the popular view, which posits that young people do not vote because they think their vote will have no effect on the outcome of the election. Instead, it is a deep and absolute cynicism.

Young people do not vote because they don’t have the idealism that any political party will change the way politics are conducted, because politics itself, not necessarily those who practice it, is the problem.


Leave a comment