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The Globe and Mail

Abysmal youth vote prompts call for a remedial strategy

Saint Mary's University students walk past a booth set up by Elections Canada in the Loyola building at Saint Mary's University, in Halifax, NS.

Sandor Fizli/The Globe and Mail/Sandor Fizli/The Globe and Mail

With flash mob videos urging youth to the polls and encouragement from the likes of comedian Rick Mercer, there was much optimism in the days leading up to this year's federal election that young Canadians would turn up.

But the voter participation rate of people between the ages of 18 and 24 rose from 37.4 per cent in 2008 to an only slightly less abysmal 38.8 per cent in 2011. Among Canadians between the ages of 24 and 34, it actually dropped from 47.9 per cent to 45.1 per cent.

After the May vote, Elections Canada conducted a survey of 1,372 randomly selected young adults aged 18 to 34 and another non-random survey of 1,293 youth who were specially selected because they were from aboriginal or ethnic communities, lived in a rural area, had a disability, or were unemployed and not in school.

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The results were released Thursday.

Who voted and who didn't

Not surprisingly, the youth in the five subgroups that were part of the non-random survey turned out to the polls in far fewer numbers than those in the general population.

Jamie Biggar, the executive director of, which works to get youth engaged in democracy, says there were two very different subgroups of Canadian young people in the lead-up to the last election.

Among the university and college set, there was an uptick in interest and enthusiasm for the campaign, Mr. Biggar said. But unemployed, and recently employed, young people were not engaged and many don't believe their vote matters, he said.

Why they didn't vote

Whether it was young people in the aboriginal or ethnic communities, the disabled, the rural youth or the unemployed, all told the Elections Canada survey that they just weren't interested in voting.

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But many of the respondents also cited personal circumstances. They were too busy, they said, with work, school or family. Many said they didn't know anything about the parties, the candidates or the issues. Some said they did not receive their voter information cards.

And some said they had no way of getting to the polling station.

What needs to be done between now and 2015

Marc Mayrand, Canada's chief electoral officer, says it is clear that there needs to be a national strategy targeting youth voters.

"As a civil society, we need to come together and determine concrete action that could be taken in a co-ordinated matter to seek to engage and re-engage youth in their democracy," he said. Addressing issues of convenience alone will not do it, he said.

"What is it that makes Canadians interested in politics?" Mr. Mayrand asked. "What is it that turns them off from time to time? And what is it that we can do about changing the culture around this?"

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