The 2011 Canadian federal election vindicates those who characterize young people as apathetic. Had Canada’s youth voted in larger numbers they could have prevented a Conservative majority, instead they generated a lot of online buzz, but failed to pull the trigger when it counted. In many parts of the country it appears that the under 30s did not leave their computers and cell phones long enough to cast a vote.
Although we will not have hard data from Elections Canada for a few weeks, publications like Saanich News are reporting low youth vote turnout: “Despite expectations, early numbers suggest social media hype before Monday’s election did not translate into more young people making it to the polls.”
The election of US President Barack Obama succeeded due in large part to the youth vote. Many were hoping that similar youth involvement in Canada would impede the Conservative’s assault on the environment. With fewer than 14 million ballots cast in the last federal election, Canada’s 5.5 million Canadians under the age of 30 could have been a game changer.
The reason why younger voters are so important is because they tend to favor parties other than the Conservatives. In the 2008 federal election less than 40 percent of young people voted and although advanced polling suggested that we would see a surge of young voters, Canada’s youth did not materialize in sufficient numbers to deny a Conservative majority.
The fact that the Conservatives won 167 seats indicates that young people did not get out and vote en masse. Although Canada’s youth did help propel the NDP to a second place finish with 31 percent of the popular vote. An “orange crush” of historic NDP support swept through Quebec, parts of Ontario and the Prairies to give the party 102 seats. “You, young Canadians, are an inspiration and a source of hope for our country’s future,” NDP leader Jack Layton told a large crowd in downtown Toronto.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff resigned after his party lost more than half their seats leaving them with 34.“We’ve seen tonight, I think, the emergence of a polarization in Canadian politics,” a defeated Ignatieff told supporters in Toronto. The people may be polarized, but the power is now in the hands of the Conservatives. Canadians failure to vote against the Conservatives have given a majority to a party that will aggressively support tar sands oil and largely ignore the environment and the green economy.
In British Columbia, Green Party leader Elizabeth May won the party’s first-ever elected seat in Saanich—Gulf Islands. The Green Party’s first seat along with Liberal losses and NDP gains make this a historic election. This election is also historic as a missed opportunity to reverse Canada’s anti-environment trajectory.
According to an early Elections Canada report, 61 percent of eligible Canadians voted in the 2011 federal election. The 2011 turnout was only slightly more than 2008’s dismal electoral participation of 59 percent.
More than 70,000 youth had pledged to vote as part of the “I Will Vote” campaign, but efforts to boost the youth vote with social media and vote mobs were insufficient to prevent a Conservative majority. The outcome of the 2011 election indicates that while Canadian youth like online campaigns, they are not interested in doing much to manage climate change, even when it concerns an action as simple as voting.
Some attribute lower than expected youth voter turnout to a lack of engagement by Canada’s political parties and the need for more face-to-face mobilization. The truth is the 2011 election results show that Canada’s youth are indeed an apathetic group of slackers, (hence the expression slacktivists). Even though the under 30s claim to care about efforts to manage climate change, through their inaction they have effectively given the Conservatives carte blanche to continue to ravage the environment.
Young Canadians could have moved beyond raising awareness and started changing the world. Instead the under 30s stayed home in many parts of the country. Canada’s youth missed a historic opportunity to use their democratic rights to lead the country into the future and enjoin the battle against climate change.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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