Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Canada's Catch-22


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Whenever politics comes up, I have a friend whose eyes glaze over into a dull stare. His posture droops until he's stooped over like a wilted flower. One time, while sitting in this apathetic slant, he asked a basic question — why should he care? He's looking for policies that directly affect him — policies that amount to cold, hard cash for our generation.

I strained for an answer, but couldn't find one.

Many lament the decline of youth interest in politics. In the last federal election only 38.8 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 voted. Many will hear that statistic and condemn the youth as lazy.

But when it comes to being politically engaged, I return the petulant, adolescent, answer — why should I vote?

None of the major parties' platforms focus on my demographic. Their platforms have grown to reflect the disinterested youth. I might like or dislike a position that affects the country, but there is no direct incentive for me to vote.

Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau are talking about middle-class families, and Thomas Mulcair about cutting taxes for small business. I don't have a family to look after, and I don't own a small business.


Now, I'm still going to vote and pay attention because I find politics inherently interesting. But for the youth who just aren't into reading overblown, disingenuous, partisan rhetoric (crazy, I know) there needs to be a reason to devote time and expend brain power on the political process.

It's really easy, as an adult, to admonish young people for their lack of engagement, but adults have politicians courting them for their vote with promises of money or other benefits such as healthcare improvements. People are always interested in things when a benefit is attached.

It's not like there's a shortage of youth-oriented issues to tackle. Many in the 18- to 24-year-old range would like to see higher spending on education, and help for those new to the work force.

One strategy for engaging the youth is social networking. This was effectively utilized by Barack Obama in the 2008 United States presidential election. Unfortunately the opportunity was squandered when Obama failed to deliver on his vague promises of "Hope" and "Change," and stomped on his own appeals for non-partisanship. This helped to alienate many young adults from politics and the shockwaves were even felt up here in Canada.

Canada, I believe, is locked in a Catch-22. The parties don't have any reason to target the youth because the youth don't vote, and the youth don't have any reason to vote for the parties because they don't target the youth. It's a predicament worthy of Joseph Heller, whose novel Catch-22 details a series of nightmarish paradoxes and added the very phrase catch-22 to our lexicon. It could be suggested that our situation belongs in the pages of his fiction.

But does Stephen Harper dare rouse the youth vote, knowing that the younger population is largely left-leaning? The most recent poll conducted by Angus Reid (Dec. 2014) found that 34 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 favour the Liberals, 29 per cent favour the New Democrats and 22 per cent favour the Conservatives.

There are other reasons for the lack of focus on the youth vote. For one thing, we simply don't make up as much of the population as we used to. Still, a quarter of Canada's population is composed of millennials. That could be enough votes to knock Harper off of his precarious majority tower.

Depending on a politician's goals, what they are doing is either smart or stupid. If their sole objective is to get into office, then they're smart. If their objective is to maintain a healthy, vibrant democracy, then one could argue they're myopic.

To keep us from sinking further into the paradox, we need either the young voters or the politicians to initiate the change. In other words, one of the two most immature groups of adults in our society needs to put aside their own interests for the greater good.

Somehow, I'm not overly optimistic.

Here's one thing they could do — intensify their focus on youth unemployment. The latest jobs report had youth unemployment at 13.3 per cent. This doesn't necessarily mean increasing spending on unemployment. One other strategy could be decreasing the minimum wage for younger people. What would be lost in immediate money could be regained in experience.

Deryk has just graduated from Whistler Secondary. He spent the last several months in a work-study program at Pique.