Take it from an American — vote

It’s important to consider all the ways Canadian youth are and aren’t making their voices heard

The first time I watched the news in Canada was on a ski mountain in Quebec, back in 2016. It’s a weird moment to remember, but from my home in Maine, we didn’t get much CBC at all. I was surprised, if not a little disappointed at seeing the same old faces and names I’d seen back home, as opposed to a fresh cast of characters. Remember, this was 2016. A lot was going on back in 2016.   

The one-way mirror 

In my experience as an American living in Canada, the relationship between the two countries is that of a one-way mirror. Canadians know a lot about American politics, but few Americans could tell you what’s going on in Canada at the provincial or even federal levels. It’s hard not to be surrounded by American politics in Canada. When the country next door is ~290 million more bodies strong and a literal global superpower, you can’t help but hear about what goes on down there. The U.S. is louder, older, and more influential on a worldwide scale. What happens in the U.S. is covered by Americans and Canadians, whereas what happens in Canada is typically only reported upon by Canadians.  

As a result, Canadian politics sometimes end up being overshadowed by events that don’t even happen in Canada. The upcoming 2019 federal election in October is no exception to this. Despite being less than a month away, coverage has been noticeably light, which is raising questions about the role of Canadian media in everyday lives, and how invested young Canadians are in politics. 

Shifting ideals 

Our generation is being defined by an interest in political involvement, the propensity to demonstrate our dissatisfaction, and a shift in what is considered politically correct. But this interest is not translating into youth voter turnout, resulting in the belief held by some that Canadian youth are simply not interested in politics. An infographic from Elections Canada shows that youth aged 18-24 has the lowest turnout for all age groups, despite increasing 18.3 per cent between the 2011 and 2015 elections.  

On paper, this doesn’t look good. However, the reality of the situation is that there is evidence to prove that Canadian youth are more interested than ever in what is happening to their country. A policy brief put out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy offers the explanation that generational values are changing, and that young people prefer to demonstrate their beliefs rather than cast a ballot. Young activists like Greta Thunberg and Emma Gonzalez are stepping into the limelight to demonstrate what they believe in, and young people are following them. In the U.S., and in my hometown, we held marches and rallies protesting Trump’s inauguration, the National Rifle Association and the abortion bans implemented by some states. This is even happening in Halifax, where earlier this summer, rallies in solidarity for Hong Kong protesters took place down at the Halifax waterfront. The world is changing, and statistics detailing voter turnout numbers are no longer a feasible sign of the times.  

What can be done  

My advice to Canadians? Continue to make your voices heard online and in the streets, but don’t forget to vote. In fact, do more than vote. Get involved in local politics. Run for Member of Parliament. The best way to change institutions is from the inside out, and when it has become clear that the older generations do not have our best interests at heart, that is all that’s left to be done.  

Robin Williams once said of Canada, “You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” It’s a flattering comparison. But just because your apartment isn’t a meth lab doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems of its own. Canada stands before a historic election, and the only way to achieve the outcome you want is to go out and not only demonstrate your beliefs but put them into practice and vote. You have a say in whether your apartment becomes a meth lab. So, take it from an American  vote! 

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Elizabeth Foster

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