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Youth vote is hard work for little payoff, say experts

Photo by Marta Kierkus

Politicians will have to hope for the best but expect the worst when it comes to voter turnout among post-secondary students in Canada, according to a panel of experts on Canadian politics.

The Maclean’s on the Hill podcast paid a visit to the University of Ottawa this past week, inviting the university community to attend a taping of their show as it celebrates a year on the digital airwaves.

Maclean’s invited Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, NDP MP Jean Crowder, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, Equal Voice’s Nancy Peckford, and journalists Paul Wells and Susan Delacourt to debate women in politics, the new Conservative terrorism bill, and the looming federal election.

Wells, Maclean’s political editor, and Delacourt, the Toronto Star’s senior political  writer, closed the show, offering up predictions for October’s election and discussed how student issues will play into the coming month’s politics.

“I think (the parties) feel burned by all the effort they put into trying to get out (the) student and youth vote, and then finding that only a third of them vote,” said Delacourt.

In the last federal election in 2011, only 38.8 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted.

“The first thing you’re going to see in the next campaign is people trying to get those people to turn their passion for issues … into a vote at the ballot box,” said Delacourt.

Wells said the answer depends on “how you define student issues and how you define students,” citing examples of initiatives that catered more to college students than those attending larger universities.

He and Delacourt agreed that politicians tend to target the voters they know they can count on.

“Every political organizer is keenly aware of the sorts of votes that they can sock away because they’re almost certain to have those votes come out,” said Wells.

Delacourt, author of the book Shopping for Votes, brought up how the voter-politician relationship has begun to resemble the way corporations treat shoppers, but said this might not be the case in October.

“I think it’s going to be a real test for marketing-style politics,” she said, after the strategy failed in the Ontario provincial election.

The podcast taping is among a number of events and initiatives seeking to drive up youth voter engagement.

Last spring, former Liberal senators created the Your Question Period initiative hoping to appeal to Canadians across the country by giving them the opportunity to pose questions to their senators.