According to Elections Canada, the last decade has shown a significant gap between younger and older age groups when it comes to voter turnout.
The organization even conducted a National Youth Survey in 2015, which ultimately found motivation and success to be the two biggest barriers that prevented youth from voting.
It also found that compared to older voters, many Canadian youth are not only less interested in politics, but also don’t necessarily feel that voting will make a difference, believing the government doesn’t care what they think and tend to see voting as a choice rather than a duty.
That year, young voter turnout was reportedly more than 20 percentage points lower than that for people in the 65-to-74 age group.
Four years later, that gap increased, with youth at 25 percentage points lower than the 65-to-74 age group.
Not all young people, however, feel so disengaged and are working diligently with various political parties throughout the region to try to increase youth engagement in politics — locally, provincially and federally.
The 'blue' sheep in the family
Hale Mahon, 19, comes from a politically diverse family.
A member of the federal Conservative Party since he was 15 and provincially since 2017, Mahon told BarrieToday both of his parents as well as his grandparents are all very politically active, which is what ultimately piqued his interest and prompted him to get more involved.
“Interestingly enough, all of my family are Liberal and NDP, so I’m not sure how I became Conservative,” he said.
After meeting then-PC Party leader Patrick Brown — who has deep ties to Barrie as a former city councillor, local MP and area MPP — while attending a community event in 2017, Mahon says he found the right fit. Despite being cut from a different political cloth than the rest of his family, Mahon says it’s never created any issues for him.
“Everyone who I talked to politically in my family respected my views, even if I didn’t agree with them, and I respected their views," he said. "You might have different positions on a certain issue, but your end goal is to improve people’s lives. That’s the end goal of all of politics.”
Mahon believes getting involved at a young age is important, especially since they will ultimately be the ones running for public office in the future.
“I think if you get involved now, it really gives you a leg up and a foot in the door in order to get involved in a bigger capacity in the future,” he said.
Anyone interested in volunteering should reach out to their local riding association for more information, Mahon said. Even if you’re not interested in knocking on doors or assisting with a campaign, showing up on Election Day is just as important, he added.
“In the 2015 federal election, we saw a very small vote difference. It was a very tight election and I think it came down to 50 votes or something in that ball park. If 50 people had voted a different way, it would have changed the outcome of the election,” he said.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the belief that one person can’t change anything politically, but your vote does matter.”
Owen Quann’s fascination with politics has been a longtime passion and is what ultimately drove the 22-year-old to begin asking questions and take action.
Quann told BarrieToday he first got involved in politics in 2015.
“I was emailing representatives from different parties asking about policies and how I can volunteer my time, the only party that responded were the Greens,” he said.
That’s when he met Bonnie North, the current Green candidate for the 2022 provincial election.
“She taught me the Green values and what it means to fight for the people and planet that I care about," Quann said.
Now, more than ever, he says young people are pivotal in securing a sustainable future not only for Canadians but for the whole world.
“We know that too many of our current representatives care not about creating a prosperous society where people and the environment takes precedence over petty profit. The youth of our nation must step up and take control of our own futures,” Quaan said.
He says he’d advise any young person wanting to get involved in any level of government not be fearful to ask questions and meet new people.
“Most people involved in politics are thrilled to see youth engagement. They want to hear your voice, so use it.”
As a young, Afghan-Canadian woman growing up in Barrie, Aria Kamal says she didn’t see a lot of people like her in political office.
“I did not see as much diverse representation and, in particular, intersectional representation, in political spheres, when I was growing up,” said the 24-year-old Lakehead University law student.
Amal, who represented Barrie-Innisfil as the federal representative for Equal Voice’s Daughters of the Vote campaign in Ottawa, told BarrieToday she believes young people provide integral insight into society's most pressing concerns and issues.
“I think that’s why a lot of significant social movements in history share that one common characteristic, which is youth as the driving force of substantive change.
"For me, I believed my lived experiences provided me with a unique lens,” she said.
It was while in Ottawa that she learned about political institutions and about how the MPs work with the institutions at parliament.
“That’s where I got my driving force to get more involved within the Liberal Party and government in particular,” she said. “In the past, the main difference is youth didn’t feel their voices were being heard or represented… and it was disheartening.
"But I love to see we are getting more youth engagement, specifically because I think now, as youth are approaching more elections in the future, we’re understanding that our priorities are being looked at more seriously and being prioritized.”
Joining the orange wave
Sarah Ortiz credits one of her college professors for spurring her involvement in politics.
Ortiz, 25, told BarrieToday she eventually joined the school’s debating society, which is where she learned of the opportunity to be involved with the upcoming election, and connected with members of the local NDP riding association.
“Prior to starting my post-secondary educational journey, I would never have envisioned myself in politics. I’m an immigrant. My entire family are immigrants in this country. I was born in Italy and came here at a young age,” she said.
“We struggled for years to get our papers, learn the language, and cope with the culture shock," Ortiz added. "I hated politics and this country growing up because of so many things I saw my family members endure … but now I recognize I have a privilege and duty as a Canadian resident.”
Ortiz says she wants to give back to her community and her country. She says she could not have achieved the things she has — or become the person she is today — if Canada had not invested in her.
“I want to do more to help marginalized communities and politics is a great place to try and do so,” she said.
Ortiz believes it's essential for young people to be involved in politics for a plethora of reasons.
“Young people are coping with the repercussions of the decisions of previous generations. We have been given debt, a burning, polluted planet, endless systemic and humanitarian issues, and unprecedented inflation rates. Not only do we need to be more active in politics, but politics needs us as well in efforts for anything to positively change,” she said.
“We have learned from the mistakes of generations before us, and it’s time for millennials and Gen Z communities to be validly recognized.”
It’s also a great way to gain public-speaking and debate skills, stay informed on current events, network, meet your community, and build your resume, Ortiz says.
“Volunteering is a great way to give back, but could also lead to a future employment opportunity as well. It’s a fantastic way to make a difference. We want to encourage philanthropic trailblazers. We want to encourage critical thinkers and doers,” she said.
“Young people hold the most power. We can enormously influence the election, at whichever level it may be held (local, provincial, federal), by ensuring young people make it to the voting booths.”
Ortiz’s advice to her fellow millennials is to be bold, fearless, and just “go for it."
“Talk to community members, ask questions to those already involved, volunteer, delve into some research – do whatever speaks to you and is within your capacities. You don’t have to run an entire election or be the prime minister to be involved in politics,” she said. “Anyone can, and everyone should, participate in politics to whatever extent possible.
"Something as simple as a signature, a phone call, putting up a lawn sign, or even a small one-time donation can go a very, very long way. Stay passionate and stay excited. Politics can be challenging, but also more rewarding than you might think."
The federal election is set for Sept. 20.