Getting youth to vote – or not to – is at the centre of two parties’ political strategy heading into a 2015 federal election.
At the Liberal convention in Montréal, President Barack Obama’s campaign gurus were out in full force. Indeed, one tweeted, “A true honor and pleasure to address #lib2014 today. Canada, you’ve got something special in @JustinTrudeau.”
Beyond the love-in (and American spelling), what’s clear is that Justin Trudeau’s team of brilliant young parents wants to replicate the Obama magic in Canada. They want to get a Canadian version of Obama’s coalition – ethnic minorities, women and youth – to volunteer and to vote for Team Trudeau.
That means inspiring the younger generation to actually go out to vote. My generation has a well-documented case of voter apathy. However, if there’s anyone who can inspire youth to vote, it’s Mr. Trudeau. The guy combines celebrity with politician in a potent way. At the recent Montreal policy convention, the screaming selfie-seekers were like nothing I’ve ever seen in Canadian politics.
And yet, with the Fair Elections Act, the Harper Conservatives seem to be making it even harder to get youth to vote.
The changes to advertising will negatively effect youth voter turnout. The Act seeks to strip Elections Canada of the ability to advertise and promote voting, including to young people. Pierre Pollievere, the Minister of Democratic Reform, suggests schools and parents are sufficient to encourage youth to vote, apparently missing the basic reality of low youth voter turnout.
Youth clearly need all the encouragement to vote that’s possible – from informational sessions on campus to advertising online and on TV. We need more advertising and campaigning from Elections Canada, not less. When it comes to encouraging youth to vote, more really is more if you want to be successful.
So, taking away the ability of Elections Canada to encourage voter participation, especially to youth, works in favour of the incumbent Conservative party – with its bedrock support from seniors who do get out to vote of their own accord – and not in the interests of fair elections that engage the most number of citizens to exercise their franchise.
It’s disgraceful what the government is doing here; it’s brilliant what the Conservative Party is doing here.
Leaked memos show that the Conservative Party’s operatives plan to exploit every benefit of incumbency. Using the government to sell the party is nothing new; violating the spirit of fair, free elections with the highest possible voter turnout is a new, dastardly low the Conservative government is no doubt importing from the Tea Party renegades in the United States.
In the U.S., conservatives realized changing ethnic demographics are their electoral Achilles heel. So, state houses across their country are making it harder for ethnic voters to actually vote by restricting ID requirements, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented and opposed from Wisconsin to South Carolina. The Act, dubbed the “Unfair Elections Act” by the NDP, seems to being doing much the same thing by making it impossible for people without ID to vote, even if vouched for by a qualified elector, and by taking away the election agency’s ability to advertise to encourage youth to vote.
Team Trudeau wants youth to vote in record numbers because youth seem to be far more progressively minded than older voters but also because they believe Justin Trudeau is uniquely positioned to inspire youth to vote for him.
The Conservatives are on to Mr. Trudeau’s strategy, and so they’re taking away Elections Canada’s ability to help Justin Trudeau by encouraging youth to vote. Of course, Elections Canada advertising is neutral and non-partisan, but encouraging youth to vote, in the Conservative outlook, is the same thing as helping Team Trudeau. In their conspiratorial, Sun News-style worldview of constant victimization by so-called elites, Conservatives seem to truly believe Elections Canada is out to get them.
It’s a sick irony that a junior cabinet minister is responsible for limiting the means to encourage youth to vote. But it should come as no surprise from a prime minister hell-bent on winning a fourth term against a youthful and youth-inspiring opponent.
The consequences of this limitation around promoting elections go far beyond a wrinkle in Team Trudeau’s youth election strategy: failing to combat a generation’s apathy now will only exacerbate declining voter turnout later on in life.
That’s yet another reason why we can’t let this Act pass, for the sake of my generation’s current and future participation in elections.
(Originally published in The Globe and Mail.)