During one of his typical rants, when he was one of the hosts of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer pointed out that "if you retired in 1995, you’ll get seven times the amount of money you put in, and if you’re under 25, you’re gonna pay in twice as much and get less money." He explained that then finance minister, Paul Martin was "Counting on Two things: that people under 25 don’t vote and they don’t pay attention to pensions."
Almost 10 years later, the fact remains that most people 35 years or under believe they are more likely to see aliens than a pension. The question is why do young people, who are going to be stuck paying for today's decisions, care so little?
Attempts by political parties, celebrities and the government itself to get youth engaged in the political process have had less than stellar results. Remember Madonna wrapped in the American flag, encouraging MTV watchers to "Rock the Vote"? Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine’s free concerts in support of Ralph Nader? The culture of activism is alive with young people. This is the generation that grew up with Earth Day and have vivid memories of the Seattle & Quebec City WTO riots, so drawing them from activism to engagement at the polls shouldn’t be a huge leap.
But politicians looking to target these groups to cultivate a new market of support have some serious work to do. Youth voter turn out is notoriously low. In the last provincial election, only 27 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 voted. The percentage goes up for people 25-34 years old, but not to a level that would indicate they are engaged.
The point becomes more striking in Whistler’s case when you consider the median age of our residents. According to the 2004 Resort Community Monitoring Report, "the age distribution of Whistler residents is less balanced than is typical for the province as a whole. With fewer children, youth and seniors, and a larger percentage of young adults, Whistler’s age distribution is centred around a median age of 30 years, eight years younger than the provincial median age of 38 years.
"Sixty-four per cent of Whistler’s population is between 20 and 44 (16 per cent aged 20-24), compared to 36 per cent for the province. Fourteen per cent of B.C.’s population is over the age of 65, whereas in Whistler, people aged 65 and over make up less than 3 per cent of the population."
Whistler’s young people are punching well below their weight, if properly mobilized they could set the agenda for our community. Sadly that opportunity has yet to be seized.