The Ontario provincial election is almost upon us and a number of commentators have noted most of us aren't paying much attention. This is particularly true of voters born between 1982 and 1995, the millennial generation. In the 2011 federal election, only 39 per cent of 18-24 year-olds and 45 per cent of those aged 25-34 voted compared to 61 per cent of the general population. Provincial voter participation has been even lower, and in the 2011 Ontario provincial election, an all-time low 49 per cent of voters cast a ballot.
There is no doubt that youth engagement is a catch 22. Political parties with limited resources tailor their message to rally their base rather than reach new supporters. Youth don't vote, so they continue to be overlooked. If politics seems irrelevant to your life and campaigns don't address your concerns then why pay attention?
But millennials have a lot at stake in this election. In 2013, Ontario's unemployment rate for youth aged 15-24 varied between 16 and 17 per cent, much higher than the Canadian average. The monthly youth employment rate in Ontario hovers around 50 per cent, which means only half of youth have jobs. The other half may have dropped out of the labour market or are pursuing further education.
For those Ontario millennials that do go back to school, they lead the country in student debt with an average of $28,000. This is hardly a surprise given that Ontario has among the lowest funding for post-secondary education per capita and the most expensive tuition in Canada. The prospect of debt accumulation actually deters some young Canadians from pursuing post-secondary, particularly those from low-income or single-parent homes.
When you are carrying lots of debt and have a high chance of being unemployed, the life milestones that previous generations may have used, such as buying houses, having children, or saving for retirement just seem like a mirage. On the campaign trail, politicians have often ignored issues unique to young Canadians, which decreases youth voter engagement even further.
But this election is different. Each of the three major party platforms speaks to youth issues more directly and there is lots that millennials should care about.
Here's what they are saying:
The PC party's jobs plan is aimed addressing the high unemployment rate. It speaks more to private sector investment through lower taxes for businesses and individuals, and fewer subsidies for particular areas. They will also shrink employment and freeze salaries in the public sector so there will be fewer opportunities there. They plan to aggressively decrease government spending in order to reduce the debt younger generations will have to carry tomorrow.
The Liberals are proposing to introduce a new retirement plan that will affect millennials in a number of ways. On the plus side, it will help young people who aren't already covered by an employer pension plan to save for retirement. On the negative side it might make employment more costly through new payroll deductions. Completing the rollout of full day kindergarten is likely to make it easier for young parents to work and the 30 percent tuition rebate reduces some of the debt burden that young people carry whereas the PCs have indicated that they would cut this. The Liberals are also proposing a number of changes aimed at reducing poverty such as an increase in the Ontario Child Benefit and the minimum wage. Millennials would be among the main beneficiaries of these programs.
Elements of the NDP platform also speak to the millennials: more public transit, more childcare spaces, and encouraging small business to hire youth by reducing taxes and increasing credits.
It is clear that issues of debt, savings, and employment are among the key issues facing young Canadians. These issues contribute to our concerns about inequality, not only between rich and poor, but also between young and old. They are the domestic issues that will help define the kind of province and country we will have over the next few decades, which has far-reaching consequences for all generations. And therefore, they are worth paying attention to now. Our politicians are catching on to this, focusing on youth employment, pensions, and the high cost of education and housing,
So listen up millennials. Ontario's leaders are finally speaking to you. On June 12 we need you to answer back.
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