Political interest among young voters on the rise

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Ontario political candidates and political activists are attempting to bring power to younger generations one vote at a time, including Shailene Panylo.

She ran for the NDP in the riding of Oshawa in last fall’s federal election at the age of 22.

Panylo said what got her interested in politics wasn’t exactly politics itself. “Passion for people and not for politics,” she said.

Getting young people interested in politics is something many people are concerned about.

In the last three federal elections the voter turnout amongst the younger age demographics has risen.

From 2011 to 2015, voter turnout amongst voters age 18-24 in the Canadian federal election went up 12 per cent and increased another one per cent in the 2019 election, according to Statistics Canada.

For eligible voters between 25 and 34 the voter turnout increased 11 per cent from 2011 to 2015 and another one percent in 2019.

Those two age groups were the only groups to have an increase in voting percentage from the 2015 to 2019 election. However, according to the Library of Parliament, students in the 25-34 age group were also less likely to vote.

Young people have often been seen as the weakest voting demographic but data shows that the trends are changing. There may be a reason for that.

Through workshops and mock political proceedings, the process and importance of voting is being taught beyond high school classrooms.

Every year, the Ontario Youth Parliament (OYP) is held on Family Day weekend for teens and young adults. It’s a non-partisan mock parliament based on the Ontario legislature.

On the long weekend, the members, who come from high school and post-secondary, debate and pass bills.

The bills that are up for debate are “important to people in our generation and relevant to what’s going on today,” said Wilfrid Laurier University student Camryn Gallagher, 20, of Ottawa. She is the 2021 leader of the opposition at the OYP.

Issues of relevance to younger people, such as mandatory vaccination, education accessibility, student debt and obesity were the target of bills debated in this year’s parliament.

The premier of the OYP, Bronwyn Clifton, 20, also from Ottawa, recognizes that talking to people who are less informed is key to increasing the influence of young people on the political world.

“We have to talk about issues that matter, make them aware of when elections are, make them aware of where to access platform details for parties,” she said. “We have to take on the responsibility of helping to inform people.”

Tim Ralph, an educator with the Durham District School Board, was a member of the OYP as a teen. He is still involved and believes young people play a key role in the growth of the country.

“I really believe that if we’re to continue to progress and grow as a country young people need to know that their voice and their vote lead to action and that it matters,” he said.

Meanwhile, Panylo says it has been a challenge as a young politician in a climate dominated by older generations. She faced an array of reactions on the campaign trail.

“It wasn’t always easy. There were a lot of people definitely when I was door knocking who were shocked by my age and wanted to make a comment about it but most were very polite,” she said. “There’s always going to be those couples who are like, oh you know sweetheart it’s not going to happen for another couple of years.” Yet she believes the supporters drown the negativity out.

Panylo believes the rise in young voter turnout will continue. “I think that we’re going to only continue to see that spike as the demographic changes.”

She expects to see a spike in the first-time voter turnout in the next provincial and federal elections because of events that impact the younger generation. This includes things such as the First Nations rail blockade protest and education disagreements between the school boards and the current provincial government.

Panylo said the events that impact youth is what’s gaining the interest of young voters and bringing the shift of views on politics. For now, she continues to hold youth empowerment workshops in the Greater Toronto Area.