Anyone can decide to vote or not. That is your right.
It seemed that this year, Canadians, hyper-aware of the new political terrain of the world, would rush to the polls. Over 4.7 million people cast ballots in advance polls, a 29 per cent jump from 2015. Observers suggested that this foreshadowed a bump in overall turnout.
The opposite came true: 65.9 per cent of registered voters went to the polls, down 2.6 per cent from the last federal election, echoing declining turnouts that have been a problem for decades.
All citizens are affected by the sitting government, so why not vote? Statistics Canada surveyed Canadians in 2015 and found that 32 per cent of non-voters abstained because they were “not interested in politics.” This number of non-voters is higher among Canadian-born citizens than immigrants: 34 per cent versus 25 per cent.
That means that about one in three non-voters are not interested in politics. In a system where everyone from your landlord to your boss to your phone company is interested in politics, why is this the case?
Interest is particularly low among young people. This oft-maligned voting bloc is often encouraged to “save the day” at the 11th hour with a spontaneous increase in turnout. The youth-led climate strikes during this year’s campaign surely encouraged this narrative. It would be disingenuous to argue that young people are not politically engaged when they literally take time off school to exercise collective power in the streets.
In 2011, 39 per cent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds voted, jumping to 57 per cent in 2015. (Data is not yet available for 2019). In that latter election, a whopping 60 per cent of non-voters aged 25 to 44 reported that they were too busy to cast a vote. Young voters also reported the highest rate of non-voting due to process issues, such as improper proof of address.
No party spoke vigorously about foreign affairs, police abuse or the arts during the debates. There was no climate-centric debate, despite a majority of Canadians being worried about climate change. All major parties promised to increase Canada’s military budget.
That includes the NDP and Greens, even though it is not known how much greenhouse gas Canada’s military emits. For context, the U.S. military’s carbon footprint is bigger than that of 140 countries. These are among the issues that major parties in Canada are not speaking to.
There is also the issue of Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system itself. Many Canadians vote strategically in an attempt to block the party they dislike — a vote against “the bad,” rather than for “the good.” It’s not a particularly inspiring concept for new voters.
The warped results go beyond ideology. The Conservatives won the popular vote but won 34 fewer seats than the Liberals, while the Greens got six per cent of the vote – equal to 1.2 million people – and won just three seats. It’s no surprise that 85 per cent of Canadians support electoral reform.
Roughly 9.2 million voters sat out this election. They have worries and priorities as we all do. That engaged voting bloc would command more power than the base of any major party.
Does anyone care?