Living with their eyes closed: how youth are being disenfranchised in Canadian democracy

A term that has been seldom used throughout this election that affects many individuals, who are part of the minority group is “disenfranchisement”. This term has been defined as the revocation of rights to vote, an essential part of being a citizen in any democracy. Disenfranchisement is a concept that hits home with many diverse groups, such as those of colour, indigenous communities (especially with the crowing of Ashley Callingbull calling on all indigenous peoples to fight against the economic injustices that lead to the disenfranchisement of their group), women, and youth. When I approach the voting booth on October 19th to cast my ballot for the candidate that best represents my needs, I fear there is a pattern that I will see, which I have noticed time and time again, that there aren’t many youth in sight. In the past, when I line up to cast my vote for federal elections, municipal elections, and referendums, the youth-to-senior ratio is grossly one sided for the baby boomers. This isn’t a surprising phenomenon, since the number of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 that voted in the general election of 2011 was a lowly 38% turnout and falls well below even half of eligible voters.

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Source: Elections Canada. Voter Turnout by Age Group, Federal General Elections from 2004-2011. 2012.

These figures should worry us for two reasons. The first, Canada is a democracy that decides the laws of the land based on a system of representation. The fact that youth are not voting means that those currently  deciding the laws are not considering the views of more than 4.8 million youth aged from 19-24. The second reason are the possible causes of low youth voter turn out – we should be asking why are youth so disengaged from the democratic process. The media has been the source of news for everyone, however, with social media erupting, the classic forms of getting information such as news broadcasts are no longer used by the majority of youth. While there are news channels that are working to ensure that they are reaching different demographics, they are not discussing the issues that are of concern to young people. Instead, they are talking to the older people about how youth are involved in gangs, drugs, and weapons. The media has failed to engage youth in Canada and do not consider this demographic important in national events. Today, ratings are the number one priority for news broadcasts and as as result we are more likely to see a news piece about a dog that can climb a tree, than one relating to homeless youth on the streets of Vancouver. With the current media in Canada, it’s no wonder we are seeing youth apathy when it comes to getting involved in the political arena.

It is a sad day when we can say that Justin Bieber is the most widely recognizable export from Canada, and that Canadians can name more United States presidents than Canadian Prime Ministers. It may be the education system that is to blame for bringing about both Bieber and ill-informed Canadians but we can’t simply stop the analysis there as to why Canadians know so little about their own country. With the Americanisation of the world through Hollywood movies, and the many television shows produced, it’s no wonder the youth of Canada don’t care to vote – they are getting their information through these American shows and movies, which teach them of American, not Canadian democratic systems.

Many scholars have outlined theories on possible explanations ranging from the media, to the Americanisation of Canadian culture. There is another reason that has been spoken about in hushed tones, which is that the government in power does not want youth to vote. Although some may be taken aback that the government could be manipulating voter turn out to ensure a favourable decision is made, but is it that shocking when we now have legislation such as the Fair Elections Act, which have been accused of preventing young and low-income Canadians from voting because eliminating the ability of voters being vouched for by friends or colleagues will disenfranchise those who do not have a fixed address, which eliminates the homeless youth from voting. Essentially, those who are in favour of causing change because of their current predicament being unsatisfactory will no longer have the ability to use their voice to call for change.

So I leave you with this: either use it, or lose it. It applies to muscles, and it seems to apply to voting as well.  Some things you can do is get information on voting from and navigating their website for all the information on how to vote, where you can vote, and what identification will be required of you. Or if you are really an eager beaver, attend meetings and events that are featuring your local candidates, and raise your concerns about politics needing to be a course in high school or the importance of youth engagement.  You can also use social media to demand attention to the rules that disenfranchise young voters.

By Jas Gosal

***All views expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CYH***