The results of this year’s mock election for elementary and secondary students show political polarization is not exclusive to Canadian adults. In fact, Canada’s schoolchildren appear even more politically fractured than their elders.
Last week, more than 1.1 million elementary and secondary students in more than 7,000 schools from all 338 ridings cast ballots in Student Vote Canada 2019. When the votes were tallied, the Liberal Party won a weak minority government with 110 seats, while the New Democratic Party assumed the role of Official Opposition with 99 seats. The third place Conservative Party led in the popular vote with 25 per cent, but garnered only 94 seats in Parliament. Meanwhile, Elizabeth May’s Green Party made major gains, capturing 28 seats with 18 per cent of the popular vote. The Bloc Québécois won nine seats.
That compares to the actual results, in which the Liberals had 157 seats and the Conservatives 121. The Bloc got 32 seats, the NDP 24, the Greens 3, and Jody Wilson-Raybould was elected as a lone Independent.
As with the official election results, political differences within the student vote often split along geographical lines.
“We’re having different conversations in this country,” said Stewart Prest, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University. “And it doesn’t seem like any leader currently can put together a narrative about where the country needs to go that is going to resonate with voters in every region.”
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Conservatives captured nearly half of the underage popular vote, securing the vast majority of seats across the western Prairies.
But despite winning the popular vote in the mock election, the Conservatives ended up with considerably less support among Canadian schoolchildren than in the official results. Instead, many youngsters flocked to the NDP and Greens.
“It’s not surprising that, among a younger group of voters, those parties would see their share of the vote increase,” Prof. Prest said.
The strong showing by the NDP and the Green Party indicates a significant disconnect between the priorities of the next generation of voters and those of Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, Prof. Prest said. That likely won’t budge until the party rethinks its approach to climate change and the environment, he added.
“Research suggests that the events of your early adult years tend to be quite formative in terms of how you view politics,” he said. “The fact that [climate change is now] a defining battle, and one where younger Canadians don’t feel like they’re being sufficiently heard, I think that can leave a mark in the coming years.”
Richard Johnston, Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation at the University of British Columbia, agrees. The Conservatives have largely become the party of “rural Canada and resource Canada,” he said. It’s up to them whether they’ll appeal to the country’s next generation of voters, Prof. Johnston added. “They don’t lack agency here.”
In 2019, Canadians between the ages of 18 and 38 comprised the largest segment of eligible voters. While it’s not yet clear how many of them made it to the polls, Caro Loutfi, executive director of Apathy Is Boring, a non-partisan charity committed to boosting political participation among young people, is hopeful youth turnout was strong. Despite a slight dip in voter participation as a percentage, Ms. Loutfi was quick to note that more Canadians voted in 2019 than in any previous election.
And if young people failed to show up, Ms. Loutfi said, political parties deserve a large part of the blame.
“We are seeing a lot of young people caring, out and about protesting, participating in social media movements and having their voices heard in informal civic spaces,” she said. “But they’re not consistently showing up in our formal civic spaces.”
That’s because young people don’t see themselves represented in government, nor do they feel their concerns are prioritized, Ms. Loutfi said. In short, there’s a lack of trust.
“Now is the time for government to start building that trust.”
Student Vote Canada 2019 is a joint initiative of Elections Canada and CIVIX, a non-partisan charity dedicated to promoting civic engagement. Organizers say this year’s vote was likely the world’s largest simulated election. It’s also the organization’s most successful campaign to date.
With a report from Mike Hager
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