Canadian youth vote: Apathy isn't the problem—it's accessibility

Aug 11, 2022
By Ashlyn Nguyen and Negin Amini, World Vision Canada National Youth Council

“Civic action” isn’t limited to voting—it is about advocacy and opportunities that help youth take a bolder action to create a positive change within their society.

With the UN's International Youth Day upon us, we're presented with some sobering statistics. In Canada, youth aged 18-25 consistently have the lowest turnout rate in comparison with other age groups, as reflected in the turnout percentages from the last four Federal Elections. In 2021, voter turnout in the 18-25 age group was only 66 per cent compared to the overall voter turnout of 76 per cent. 

But, blaming youth apathy and disinterest in politics to rationalize youth voter turnout is a poor excuse and can actually further marginalize and disengage young citizens from political systems. Instead, we’d argue the issue is access to diverse and equitable opportunities for young Canadians to engage with decision-makers. 

We are asking a critical question to ensure future generations are meaningfully and substantially engaged in our political system: how can we provide sufficient access to resources to help youth put their perspectives in action and make a contribution to a better Canada?

In reality, youth are the most politically vocal demographic in Canada.
Instead of wielding power with a voter’s ballot once every four years, youth engage politically 24/7 using the most powerful tool for advocacy and awareness available today—social media. In fact, almost half of young people (ages 15-30) signed an internet petition in the past year and almost a quarter expressed their views on an issue on an online forum or news website, making youth the most politically active age group online.
So, this begs another question: If we are so passionate, why won’t we take our voices to the ballot box?
In our experience as youth newly exposed to politics, we noticed that although youth are very vocal and passionate, they do not see voting as an effective method to raise their concerns. Political parties fail to cater their platforms that appeal to youth. Youth have specific concerns, but these concerns are often unrepresented in party platforms. Hence, youth are distanced from the electoral process and voters’ apathy develops.
So, you might then pose a question to youth: Why then don't youth engage directly with politicians to express their concerns?
To mitigate the barriers between youth and politics, we are advocating for greater investments to promote youth civic participation and these include the following recommendations:
  • More advocacy resources catered to youth need to be available to boost youth political engagement. Our team, the World Vision Canada Youth Council, drives advocacy by connecting key global issues to topics Canadians youth care about. Through our work, we noticed the gap in resources to guide aspiring youth advocates on connecting with government representatives to enact action for change. For that, we built the Youth Political Advocacy Framework: an interactive guide that covers the basics of how youth can engage in social activism, political participation, and decision-making processes. It provides a step-by-step guide on how to use youth advantages to influence legislation, what advocacy looks like in Canada’s parliamentary system, and how to meet with a Member of Parliament (MP). The framework also provides a tool kit to support youth in their advocacy. Our government needs to scale up their investments in resources like the Youth Political Advocacy Framework to boost youth civic engagement.
  • Education is critical to encourage young people to become more involved in political discourse. Moreover, learning about civic rights, obligations, and responsibilities in citizenship through active engagement are foundational to youth development and their transition to adulthood. Governments and non-profit organizations can collaborate in developing resources and educational material to help reduce barriers to engagement and de-stigmatize youth political presence. For example, the 2018 youth program launched by the Canadian government is a solid start and helps encourage youth to share their perspective and adopt policies that will better serve Canadians. We’d like to see even more resources and opportunities to create a real change on this issue. 
  • Effort is needed to debunk misconceptions around youth disengagement in politics while also increasing more organizational and government-led initiatives to bridge the gap between youth and political decision-makers. The Canadian government recently suggested that even though youth aren’t as engaged as other age groups in voting, many of them engaged in non-electoral political activities such as expressing views online, signing petitions, and participating in marches and demonstrations. In this category, about 67 per cent of youth searched for information on a political cause. Therefore, the government could help to identify ways youth can integrate more within political advocacy.
While it’s true that youth participation in formal political institutions is significantly lower than the older population, youth are actually dealing with the bulk of societal challenges: climate change, access to affordable housing, education funding, Canada’s involvement in international development to help shape a peaceful world, and more.
This International Youth Day, we ask the Government to engage even more with our generation. We value resources, education, clarity in political processes, and access to dialogues to be a part of change. We deeply care about Canada and we want to be an empowered, informed and equipped force for positive change in the world.
Canadian youth and decision-makers, are you with us?

Download the Youth Political Advocacy Framework below