Painful Truth: Why should young people vote?

Taking a look at the headline above, I’m sure most of you expected to read a stirring defence of voting, and a call to action to those between 18 and 30 to head out to the ballot boxes come this Oct. 19.

But it’s a serious question. What good will it do young people to vote?

Look at the rhetoric in this election, or in any federal or provincial election for the last couple of decades.

The party leaders, all of them, will certainly talk about youth issues, and usually they’ll throw out some kind of college tuition plan, maybe some job training programs. A few million here, a few million there.

The Greens have offered the most ambitious plan, with interest-free student loans and hard caps on student debt. The NDP also wants to phase out student loan interest (over seven years) and increase student grants, the Conservatives are talking about helping with RESP contributions – which only helps if your parents have money to save – and the Liberals are touting a “Learning Passport” that would give $4,000 to $6,000 to high school grads, but spread out over four years.

But when it comes to “youth issues” most parties don’t have much to say beyond a few snippets of educational reform.

What they’re mostly focused on are two endlessly repeated mantras: “the middle class” and “families.”

Those groups are generally great for politicians, because they’re so amorphous, they cover almost everyone in the country. Scraping by on $35,000 a year with three kids? Middle class! Married doctors with a vacation ski chalet? Middle class? As for families, well, that covers people who are married, single parents, blended families, grandparents…

But for those under 30 (and even this is a random cutoff; why not 25 or 28 or 22?) neither the middle class nor family are rallying cries.

More and more people are starting families later, and having fewer children when they do. More and more people are stretching out their time in school or living with their parents because they can’t find good jobs.

All the parties say they want to address the economy, but they’ve been saying that since we still used one-dollar bills. Things are not necessarily getting worse, but they aren’t getting better, and they’re getting more and more uncertain each year.

Maybe there’s a very good reason for young people not to vote: they don’t have a stake big enough in our society to even bother picking a side.

Once you have some social equity – a job, kids, and especially some real estate – governments are eager to crowd around and offer to help, or at least to try to not make things actively worse for you.

Beyond that, older people may remember a time when parties were much, much more different from one another.

This campaign has actually seen some stark differences in approach, more than many elections since the start of the century. But the parties are still crowded around the center, still more alike than they were a generation ago. Can we blame people who grew up with this situation for looking at their options, throwing up their hands, and choosing not to choose?

The problem isn’t that young people are lazy or disengaged or any of the other insults regularly lobbed at them. If politicians care about the youth vote, give them a reason to mark an X.

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