Youth May Vote If System Changes

Article excerpt

OTTAWA -- A generation ago, teenagers thought smoking was cool.

Sure, many knew it was likely bad for their health, but that wasn't enough to dissuade them from joining the popular kids for an illicit cigarette behind the school gym.

But those days are behind us now, after at least two decades of health warnings and government advisories drilling it into kids' heads that smoking isn't cool.

It can be deadly.

Somehow, we now have to motivate young Canadians to vote, the same way we motivated them not to smoke.

Most people would likely admit they know they should vote. But when it comes to Canadians under 30, less than half are actually likely to do so. Many don't even feel guilty about it.

Last week, the Public Policy Forum and Elections Canada held a one-day seminar on youth voting. More than two dozen people were invited to attend, ranging from student leaders to a former parliamentarian, lobby groups and academics.

The issue was quite clear: If we don't find a way to bring young voters to the polling booths, we will soon hit a day when turnout is so low that any decision a government makes is considered illegitimate.

Nobody in that room June 5 hoped for a magic bullet, which is a good thing. There isn't one.

The decline in voting has taken many years, and turning the ship around will likely take more than a generation.

The solutions discussed at the forum ranged from improving political knowledge though school programs to bridging the gap between politicians and youth by getting politicians more engaged with young people.

The youth voting lobby group Apathy is Boring has research showing young people are the group least likely to actually be contacted by politicians or political parties during an election. Politicians and political parties have to get over themselves and start reaching out to youth directly, rather than thinking they aren't a priority simply because they don't vote.

They also have to acknowledge the role our political system plays in the problem.

Political parties were excluded from the forum -- they can add a lot of partisan nonsense to an open-minded discussion. …