Young voters say housing affordability, minimum wage, cost of living are key election issues –

Political parties are failing to connect with young Ontarians in this provincial election, an expert says. 

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A voter waits in line at a polling station to cast a ballot in Toronto on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Political parties are failing to connect with young Ontarians in this provincial election, an expert says. 

“I think there’s a gap here,” Myer Siemiatycki, a professor emeritus of politics at Toronto Metropolitan University, said on Saturday. “There’s a voting gap and a voice gap that I think really needs to be improved.”

With the Ontario election around the corner, voters under 29 say they want politicians to address issues important to them, such as housing affordability, minimum wage and the rising cost of living.

Siemiatycki said now more than ever, political parties need to do a better job at speaking to youth directly and about issues that matter the most to them.

“We know from the most recent census release that Canadians under 29 are an increasingly large portion of the overall population,” he said.

“If political parties are not very explicitly messaging and reaching out to those constituencies, they are missing a large potential base of voters.”

Young people identify issues that matter to them

Brian Solomonian, a Toronto chef, said affordability in the city is a huge election issue for him, especially because the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people unemployed.

“I think it’s taking a toll on a lot of people, myself included,” Solomonian said.

“I have a personal chef business, so food costs are huge for me and rising cost of living … that’s going to affect me the most, I think.”

Mahfam Nikoo, a Toronto resident, said the cost of schooling and cost of living are the issues top of mind this election.

“A lot of people my age, I think, are struggling keeping up with multiple jobs just to pay rent and pay off tuition debts,” Nikoo said.

Added Siemiatycki: “It’s harder to start adult lives now than it has been for a long time.”

Future Majority, a national non-partisan organization, is focused on encouraging young people to vote and have their voices heard this election.

“I think there are a lot of issues this election that young people want to have their voices heard on,” Camellia Wong, a communications director with Future Majority, said on Saturday.

“And we know the best way to do that is through voting.”

The organization runs the largest voter mobilization program in Canada for Generation Z, those born after 1994, and millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996.

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Camellia Wong is a communications director with Future Majority, a national non-partisan organization that is making an effort to encourage young people to vote and have their voices heard this election. (CBC)

According to polls and focus groups organized by Future Majority, the most important issues as expressed by young voters are affordability, climate change and mental health, Wong said.

“Over the past several elections, we’ve been really focused on making sure that young Canadians are having their voices heard by politicians and showing up to the polls,” Wong said.

“When we’re talking to young people, what’s really effective in getting [them] out to vote is if someone they know and trust is telling them there are important issues to vote on.”

Voter turnout lower for young people: Stats Can

While Elections Ontario says it does not provide demographic information about voters, Statistics Canada data on federal elections shows people aged 18 to 24 head to the polls at a lower rate than older Canadians.

However, the number of young voters has significantly increased over the last decade.

Siemiatycki said voter turnout for those aged 18 to 24 was 66 per cent while the national overall turnout was 76 per cent in the 2021 federal election and the 10 percentage point gap in voter turnout is a real issue.

“That’s a huge differential,” he said about the 2021 federal election. “It tells us that youth are not as engaged and probably that their input into political decision making is not consistent with their proportion of the population.”

“Given the challenges young Canadians are facing, I would say that’s a really serious discrepancy.”

With Ontarians set to head to the polls on June 2, Siemiatycki said the added impact of the pandemic on young people could translate into two different ways on voting day.

“We know there has been a certain degree of isolation, maybe even passivity and despondency that has been unleashed by COVID,” he said.

“Those characteristics would all translate into low voter turnout. [But] on the other hand those circumstances could generate a recognition for a need for policies and programs to support young people.”