The topic of youth voters in this year’s provincial election caused debate at a Ryerson University forum Tuesday, with one campaign strategist stating youth are simply “not interested” in politics or voting.
The discussion came during a Ryerson Democracy Forum which included four panellists, each of them a strategist for one of the four main provincial political parties in the 2018 election. The purpose of the forum was to discuss the strategies and tactics the campaigns used leading up to the June 7 election.
Kory Teneycke was a strategist for the Progressive Conservatives, Michael Balagus for the NDP, David Herle for the Liberals and Becky Smit for the Green party.
While Elections Ontario has not posted voter turnout data by demographic, each of the strategists agreed getting youth involved and engaged during the 2018 provincial election was a challenge.
The boldest remarks about the youth vote came from Liberal campaign strategist David Herle.
“They’re not interested,” he said. “What can you do? When people aren’t interested, there’s nothing you can do.”
Herle said the Liberal campaign put a lot of time and money into appealing to youth on various platforms, because they felt they were going to lose votes among older voters. Policies like raising the minimum wage, and free pharmacare for those 25 and under, should have also appealed to the youth, but they did not, he said.
“How important was it at the end of the day? We have a Ford government which was the choice of about one in five people under the age of 25,” Herle said in an interview following the event.
The PCs, which ended up forming a majority for the first time since the days of Mike Harris 15 years ago, also did not see a very high youth turnout compared to other demographics, Teneycke said.
“I’m maybe a little less concerned when youth voter turnout is a bit lower,” Teneycke said. “Because I think voting is something that people often grow into.”
During the event’s Q-and-A session, Chloe-Marie Brown, a Ryerson student and former council candidate for Etobicoke North, said youth do care and she was disappointed to hear the panellists say otherwise.
“This whole panel is an indicator of what’s wrong with political discourse,” she said. “I think one of the biggest issues with youth engagement is that adults disincentivize it … You offer no innovative solutions.”
Balagus, the NDP campaign strategist, said while their campaign did have policies that should have appealed to youth, their problem was in conveying their platforms to a younger audience.
“Our challenge is motivating them enough to get engaged and get out and vote,” Balagus said. “That’s a piece that we are going to spend a lot of time over the next four years trying to get our head around.”
Balagus said their exit polling data from the 2018 election showed the younger the voter was, the more likely they were to vote NDP. However, the party did not see the youth turnout to the extent that they wanted.
“The NDP is not going to win an election until young people vote in this province,” he said.
Herle and Smit both said that their parties could work to convey their platforms to youth more effectively.
“I would argue that it’s not that young people don’t care. They maybe just don’t hear the message in the way we are delivering it,” Smit said. “And I think that’s our fault, not their fault.”
Campaigning on social media and appealing to new Canadians were among the other topics discussed at Tuesday’s event. Ryerson has now hosted several democracy forums this year. The university is also hosting another event centred on provincial politics next Tuesday called Ford’s First Few Months.