By: Taya Nabuurs
At an event co-hosted by the Young Voters of Prince Edward Island and the UPEISU Get Out the Vote campaign, young political activists along with former and current politicians alike gathered at The Pourhouse on Monday evening to listen to guest speakers present their opinions on youth political engagement and why the youth vote is so critical in the upcoming federal election. Hosted by Derrick Biso, a recent UPEI graduate and former Green Party candidate for District 13, Biso stressed the importance of informed voting – especially amongst youth – in his opening address of the audience.
One of the guest speakers on Monday evening was one of UPEI’s own, Professor Don Desserud of the Political Science department, a regular media commentator on provincial and federal politics. Desserud began by commenting on the behind-the-scenes operation and political strategy of political parties. He explained that these political parties use the same methods that companies use to market their products to consumers when developing their campaigns. Politicians use these marketing techniques to adjust everything from policies to the way they speak. He reasoned that Baby Boomers are at the apex of decision making in politics and have been for some time now because they’ve been the largest demographic for so long, and they consistently have the highest voter turnout. Those who vote have proportionately greater influence on political decision making. Politicians know that young people don’t vote, and so youth are not on their radar.
The last speaker of the evening, former Premier Robert Ghiz, highlighted similar points to what were mentioned by Professor Desserud and used his personal experience in politics to verify that politicians really do spend a lot of time looking into research and analyzing voting statistics. He explained that politicians are constantly asking themselves how they can adjust their statements and policies to make sure that they’re reflecting the same opinions as voters, but that the opinions of the non-voting population hardly come into play for obvious strategic reasons.
Both Robert Ghiz and Professor Desserud discussed the possibility of free tuition for Canadian students. Desserud used free tuition as an example of something within the realm of Canada’s future possibilities that is currently not being looked at because youth aren’t engaging themselves actively enough in politics. He explained that such a thing could be possible if there was a stronger youth voter turnout and if youth were able to catch the attention of politicians and make themselves a priority on political platforms. Ghiz followed that idea, stating that we should be taking the profits from oil sands and investing them in programs targeted to benefit youth and encourage more economically sustainable futures so that these environmentally harmful, non-renewable resources are not needed further down the line.
Seeing our incumbent MP for Charlottetown, Sean Casey, at the event, and considering the topic of the event, The Cadre decided to ask him how he planned on harnessing the youth vote during his re-election campaign. Casey replied, “I do have a very active group that is involved in the campaign that is looking at every other angle we can think of to try to engage youth. I think the big thing here is that the solutions have to come from youth themselves and not be imposed top down. So quite frankly I’m doing a lot of listening and not much talking in terms of how to engage youth.”
Another speaker, former UPEISU President Lucas MacArthur, talked about the “untapped potential” of the youth vote. He highlighted multiple barriers facing youth politically right now, especially the recent Fair Elections Act passed by the Conservative government which is affecting students’ ability to vote. Under the new Fair Elections Act, students are required to present a second piece of identification with their proof of address, and can no longer use their voter identification cards as proof. MacArthur explained how this can be difficult for the many students living off-campus who live with roommates and may not be able to produce bills in their name as proof of address. MacArthur stressed how the UPEISU’s Get Out the Vote efforts are more important now than ever and will be key in mobilizing the student vote and getting more youth engaged in politics at a time when the government seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
The Young Voters of Prince Edward Island and UPEISU Get Out the Vote ended the presentations by reinstating the importance of youth engagement in politics and how it will play a pivotal role in shaping the future and by highlighting the multiple upcoming events. UPEISU VP Academic and External, John Rix, seemed pleased with the outcome of the event: “I thought there was a variety of different opinions shared. The most important thing about an event like this is that it gets people out and it gets people engaged in the process.”
The Young Voters of Prince Edward Island and the UPEISU Get Out the Vote will be hosting multiple events in the coming weeks, including a viewing party for the Globe and Mail Leader’s Debate at Upstreet Brewery, a Meet the Candidates event at The Wave on Monday, and various other events targeted for youth engagement leading up to the October federal election.