A cynic might say that Joe Oliver's thinly-concealed plan
to double the contribution limits of the Tax-Free Savings Account to $11,000, despite the fact that it will benefit only the affluent, will ensure the re-election of the Harper regime. After all, this is a government that has made a virtual art of appealing to the narrow self-interests of people over any concern for the collective.
A cynic might say that even though the majority of people will not benefit, they will think it's a good idea since so many regard themselves, as John Steinbeck so wryly put it, as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires."
A cynic might say that the Liberals and the NDP will offer only anemic objection to the plan as they cautiously hedge their bets for the October contest.
A cynic might also say that since the young don't vote, Harper and the others are strategically correct in tailoring their policies to those who do: the older and more affluent, or, as all three major party leaders like to call them, 'the middle class.' The young, so the story goes, are engaged in their own world of social media, technology and social life and hence can be dismissed.
While the cynic may be correct in all of the above, it is this last contention that, in the larger scheme of things, perhaps merits the most attention.
In the 2011 election, about 60% of eligible voters turned out at the poll. Among voters under 30, under 40% bothered to cast a vote. Research
undertaken last year by Nik Nanos and former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page uncovered some very interesting data guided by this question:
What if 60 per cent of young people had voted?
His answer: Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives likely wouldn't have won a majority.
More importantly, he says the political debate would have been more hopeful and would have revolved around a broader range of issues if young people had been more engaged in the process.The potential strength of the young vote lies in the fact that their priorities are different from the those of the majority who vote:
"What we find is that their concerns are much more diverse than older Canadians who are fixated on jobs and health care," Nanos said in an interview. "So if you're a younger Canadian, you're twice as likely to say that the environment is a top national issue of concern. You're twice as likely to say that education is a top national issue of concern."
His analysis also suggests older Canadians "are very cynical, they have less confidence in finding solutions" whereas younger people "are actually much more hopeful, have a higher level of confidence in finding solutions."So why aren't they turning out?
A recent article in The Tyee
offers some useful insights. A profile of Julie Van de Valk, a 20-year-old third-year geological engineering student at the University of British Columbia, reveals a young woman passionate about a number of issues, the environment and climate change at the top of her priorities. While she will vote in the upcoming election, she has little enthusiasm for any of the parties:
None of them, in her opinion, "are addressing climate change with the type of leadership that people who understand the issue want to see."
Harper's Conservatives have warned climate action could be "job-killing." But the Liberals and NDP haven't offered Van de Valk a very inspiring alternative. Neither party has clearly articulated to her how it would drastically reduce carbon emissions and shift Canada to clean energy. Meanwhile, both have offered qualified support to the oilsands. "That doesn't do it for me," she said.So it almost becomes a chicken-or-egg question. Young people are disaffected because their priorities aren't represented by the major parties, and the major parties pay little heed to those priorities because young do not vote in sufficient numbers to command the attention and respect of the parties.Brigette DePape
and others like her are trying to change all that.
The former parliamentary page, you will recall, caused quite a stir in 2011 when she held up a sign in the Senate while David Johnson was delivering the throne speech:
With no regrets about what she did, and with no illusions that such acts change the world, she articulates a vision that will resonate with most progressives:
She wants a government that reflects the values of her generation and future generations. She wants an agenda that includes an equitable, compassionate society; treats the environment as a priceless public asset; addresses youth unemployment and student debt; respects the views of women, workers, indigenous peoples and racial minorities; and brings the nation together.To those ends, DePape
was in Toronto last week as part of a five-city tour by the Council of Canadians to get out the youth vote. “I understand why most (young people) see voting as futile,” she told her first audience in Winnipeg. “In the 2011 election when I was a University of Ottawa student, someone asked me to go door-knocking. But I really didn’t see the point.
“Since then, I’ve had a change of heart. After four years under the current government (nine counting Harper’s two previous terms), I want to do everything in my power to see a government that reflects our values.”She offers some sobering statistics to convey the power of the vote:
The Tories won nine of their seats by a margin of less than 1,000 votes. They captured Nipissing-Timiskaming, for example, by just 18 votes. Most of the 5,300 students at Nipissing University stayed home. They won Etobicoke Centre by just 26 votes. Had a few more students from the University of Toronto, York, Ryerson or Humber College showed up at the polls, they could have tipped the balance.Working with groups such as Shit Harper Did,
DePape is intent on changing things by convincing enough young people to make the difference she knows they can make.
DePape’s goal over the spring and summer is to build a team of youth leaders and collect 2,000 vote pledges in strategic ridings. In the fall, she and her associates will pull out the stops to collect on those pledges.“We’re at a turning point,” she tells audiences. “We can be game-changers.”For all of our sakes, let us all hope that she is sufficiently successful to convince people of that truth.