The issue of youth apathy when it comes to electoral participation never really seems to leave the media eye, it was back in focus last week after Robert Fowler, Canada’s former ambassador to the UN, castigated students at University of Ottawa’s fall convocation where he was receiving an honourary doctorate.
It’s possible to write this off as every generation’s standard claim that the youth are running wild and are worse than ever but I would agree that today’s the level of apathy among young people is concerning.
Certainly, there are many causes: the lack of new ideas and inspiring politicians; the media; the feeling that it doesn’t make a difference who gets elected and that your vote doesn’t really matter — especially in a “safe” riding; the lack of civics being taught in schools; distracted, busy lifestyles; plain old lazyness.
But I’d like to add another possible reason, maybe this apathy has to do with young people’s election experiences at school. For most students, a student union (or other student association) election will be one of the first, if not the first, elections they will be invited to participate in.
Voter turnout in student elections is pitiful even when compared to youth turnout in federal, provincial and even municipal elections. We’re talking about 10 per cent turnout being considered high and two or three percent being unsurprising.
Again, I’m sure there are lots of reasons why students don’t vote and don’t seem to care about electoral politics at the hyper-local level. But one of them has got to be ballot questions like this one, from an upcoming Concordia Student Union referendum:
“Do you approve and ratify By-law 2010-2, adopted by the President, on October 27, 2010 pursuant section 7.1.2 of the General By-Laws of the CSU to give effect to a resolution of the Council of Representatives adopted on October 13, 2010 to increase the Union Building Fund component (currently at $2.00 per credit) of the Concordia Student Union membership fees each Fall, Winter and Summer semester incrementally by 50 cents per credit over five semesters, beginning in the Winter 2010 semester and ending in the Summer 2012, whereas the fees will be collected in accordance with university tuition and refund policy.”
What it means: Concordia students currently pay a $2 per credit fee to their student union that, supposedly, will one day go to building a student centre. They’re being asked to approve a $2.50 increase to that fee, which will be phased in over the next year-and-a-half.
Sadly, this is better than other questions. Student unions have a tradition of leading and unclear questions but even questions like this are bound to leave voters with a bad taste in their mouth. Couple that with the pettiness of student election campaigns, the usual allegations of outside funding and other rule breaking and it’s easy to see why student elections could put a young people off voting for a long time. I mean, if the politicians are this low now, imagine how low they’ll get when something important is at stake.