by Janet Nicol
Fewer young people participate in Canadian elections than in the previous generation according to statistics, yet many in British Columbia value the democratic process and are volunteering in the provincial election.
Recent interviews with young people (ages 16 to 24) volunteering for three of the four major political parties (the Conservative Party did not respond to an interview request) show an enthusiasm and interest in politics. Here’s what these six young men and women have to say.
Adrian She is a Grade 12 student at David Thompson Secondary School on Vancouver’s south side. Even though he is a year shy of qualifying to vote in the BC election, he is volunteering for NDP incumbent Gabriel Yiu in the Fraserview riding. “The NDP are pragmatic,” he says. “They are benefitting real people.” He rattles off an impressive list of policy proposals the NDP stand for—from investing in skills training to support of mental health initiatives. “They will enforce employment standards,” he says, “and extend medical benefits to include insulin pump coverage. The NDP is a positive party and doesn’t get involved in attack ads. It’s fiscal plan is open and transparent.”
Many of She’s friends support either the Green Party, because of its environmental policies, or the Liberals, because they are “business-inclined.” His classmates may not be volunteering, but She says they are “informing themselves” about the election through newspapers, the internet, and facebook pages.
She describes his riding as diverse and says MLA Gabriel Yiu, “works well with different organizations.” The NDP candidates represent many approaches, from “the lesbian and queer community to the medical community.” These people will “bring their best to the legislature.”
Kelly Weleschuk, a 24-year-old political science student at Simon Fraser University is volunteering for the first time. She says she was attracted to the Green Party’s long-term policies. “They think seven generations—and even seven years down the road,” she says. Weleschuk also likes the party’s comprehensive policy on childcare. “They are inclusive of all types of people and promote an anti-bullying program in schools. This includes cyber bullying,” she says. “Everyone has to respect one another. “
During the televised leadership debate Green Party leader Jane Sterk stated BC turned down a company offering wind energy. Weleschuk said she was “astounded” by this fact. “When my friends and I watched the debates,” Weleschuk says, “we started counting the number of times the Liberal and NDP leaders said the word economy.“
“We have to think about a sustainable future. If we don’t look at this, we won’t have a planet Earth. The environment is tied to the economy. Attitudes are changing,” Weleschuk says. “Young people are tired of the Liberals and NDP and will look at the Green Party.”
The Green Party allows young people to give their opinions. You can contribute to policy. It’s open to debate and open to community discussion.
Sebastian Zein, age 18, is attending University of BC and is volunteering in the Port Moody-Coquitlam campaign for Liberal candidate Linda Reimer. “I was always the type of person who asked why?” he says about his interest in politics. “Many of the answers led to government policies.”
He thinks many youth may not be as interested because they don’t have a long-term view. But he also says youth are actively engaged at all levels. “The Liberal Party is the only serious party regarding the need for a robust private sector to fund public service,” he says. “They get that balance correct.”
As for education policies, Zein believes the Liberals have shown their competency. “In the past 12 years, they have done well with public schools. I come from an ordinary suburban working class school and had first-rate teachers and equality of opportunity.”
He says under the Liberals, schools have enjoyed the highest funding per student in BC’s history. “The seismic upgrade of schools has been important too,” he says. “The government is considering the safety of youth.”
Zein likes the fact the Liberals are guiding students toward skilled trades and notes they have partially unfrozen post-secondary tuition fees.
Should the pipeline project affecting BC’s north and tanker traffic move ahead? “The premier is consistent,” Sebastian says, “there are five conditions. It strikes a balance. We will not compromise and will demand the highest standards and that First Nations groups be consulted.”
Sandra Alarcon is a 21-year-old international student from Venezuela, studying political science at SFU. She is ineligible to vote but this hasn’t stopped her from volunteering for the Green Party. “I’m more of a green person,” she says about her choice of parties. “I’m not impressed with the other parties.”
She notices other university students may not be volunteering but they are listening and will be voting.
“The Green party is helping post-secondary education to be more affordable,” she also says. “Lots of youth are struggling.”
As for the environment, Alarcon believes in sustainability. “We need alternative forms of fossil fuels,” she says. Alarcon campaigns door-to-door in Vancouver neighborhoods. “When a person says thank you for trying to make Canada a green place, it’s rewarding, she says, “even if you’ve been rejected a hundred times.”
Alarcon says volunteering can be stressful but is fun too. “I plan to continue volunteering for the Green Party after the election.”
Rittu Sharma is 16 and attends Fleetwood Park Secondary School in Surrey. She is volunteering for the first time in the Surrey-Fleetwood riding for Liberal Party candidate Peter Fassbender.
“My dad is a business man and the Liberals support business,” she says about her choice of party. “It’s important to get involved because what happens now affects you later,” Sharma adds.
Sharma says she tells her friends about her volunteer work, which includes going door-to-door with the candidate—hoping to get them to become involved. “Most students are busy with their own schedules—academic and sports,” she says, “but a few have gotten involved.”
Sharma says the Liberals have a record of highest funding of BC students, have increased technology in schools and offer accessible and affordable post-secondary education. “The Liberals have a strong platform, cutting down spending and having a debt-free BC.”
Sharma also supports the conditions the Liberals have placed on the pipeline project so it will be less risky and says the project will be a boom to the economy.
“Volunteering is so much fun,” Sharma says. “I’m already looking forward to the next campaign.”
Kimberly Ho won’t be voting in the Vancouver–Fraserview riding this election—she’s in Grade 12 at Killarney Secondary School and just a year under the voting age. Volunteering on the phones and door-to-door on Gabriel Yiu’s campaign is a first-time and “fun” experience, Ho says.
“I have always wanted to be involved with politics in some way,” she says. “Volunteering for an election campaign is an excellent opportunity to grow your network and meet people from a variety of sectors in a short, intense amount of time. There are tons of volunteers and people from all different sectors who get involved during elections.”
Ho thinks its important young people are aware of what’s going on in the community. “I would say there is a good handful of my classmates who care about local politics,” she says, “and quite frankly, I believe some may be even more informed than some eligible voters out there.”
Ho says the NDP platform attracted her because it was “practical, in comparison to the Liberals.”
“Their platform shows exactly how they will pay for those changes,” she says. “They have been careful not to make too many promises, proposing changes that are practical and will make a difference. In uncertain economic times, we need a government to make responsible choices about spending.”
Ho also has a few choice words for the BC Teachers’ Federation too: “While officially non-partisan, the BC Teachers’ Federation is clearly campaigning on behalf of the New Democratic Party,” she has observed. “I have noticed an increase of expensive television ads sponsored by the union, urging voters in this year’s election to end a government it insists has wreaked havoc on public education. It seems that the teachers’ union believes that a government led by Adrian Dix represents the pathway to free collective bargaining and more money to improve class size and composition. If the teachers’ union honestly believes that the NDP is going to open the vault to give it everything it wants after the election, it’s incredibly naive.”
Ho has lots to say about education policy—especially as someone who came through public schools during the liberal regime.
“Over the last 12 years, the BC Liberals have failed to protect public education in our province and have often taken steps backwards,” she says. “As a result, too many students go to school in overcrowded classrooms to learn from teachers who have too few resources. Cuts to special needs programs are making it harder for many students to succeed, and I say this as a student who has witnessed this first-hand. It is about time that a BC NDP government step in to improve the learning conditions for young British Columbians, by means of hiring new employees in the education system, and putting more focus on students with special needs, ESL, and Aboriginal students.”
Make no mistake, young people are listening. It’s all about motivating more of them to participate—and if we succeeded, surely the province would be a better place.
Reprinted from BC Teacher newsmagazine, May/June, 2013 (available on-line at BCTF website)
Watch for my book review of The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power 1972-1975, by Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh in the upcoming BC History journal, Summer 2013.