The Canadian political system is unique because it allows each province to have its own provincial government which has control over local matters that directly affect local citizens. These are known as "provincial rights" and allow each province to make its own laws, establish public institutions for the welfare of its people, and enter into agreements with other provinces without first receiving permission from the federal government.
A recent poll showed that only half of young Canadians (aged 18 to 25) voted in the 2015 federal election; older voters turned out at a much higher rate. But while it is clear that younger people are less likely to vote than their parents and grandparents, what isn't so clear is why this is happening. In fact, both young and old are increasingly disengaged from politics, and it's difficult to say who might be more responsible for this trend.
The 2015 election saw lower voter turnout overall than the previous election in 2011. Elections Canada estimated that it had received 10 million fewer pieces of identification than people who needed them to vote, which means less people were able to vote. In particular, the number of young people voting dropped from 57 per cent in 2011 to 48 per cent in 2015.
An underlying problem may be that younger Canadians feel less connected with their political system than ever before. Fewer and fewer Canadian youth consider politics a priority in their lives. The Federal Youth Participation Initiative found in a 2009 report that only 10 percent of Canadian youth between the ages of 12 and 29 claim to be "engaged" in politics today.
So why are young people increasingly disengaged, and why is their interest dwindling? According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data for Samara Canada, some 60 per cent of Canadians aged 18-to-34 say that they don't read newspapers. If young people aren't reading about politics in the news, it's easier to see why they would be disengaged from politics.
And when youth do follow the news, it is likely that their main source of information is social media websites or other online sources. The same survey found that only 22 percent of young people read daily newspapers, while 46 per cent read online publications daily.
Instead of scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, some Canadians are turning to digital news sources. A 2015 report from Canada's Public Policy Forum found that "new media" (i.e., internet-based information sources) is playing an increasingly prominent role in how Canadiansget their news.
But the abundance of online media sources isn't enough to explain why young people are increasingly disengaged from politics. The same report also found that younger Canadians are the most likely age group to depend on digital media for news, which means it's not an across-the-board problem. So what is it about political news that turns young people off?
One problem may be that online sources are more likely to report on politics in an irreverent way, which could alienate youth who aren't familiar with how politics works. When the Toronto Star ran a cover photo of Justin Trudeau for its election-day edition last year depicting him as Superman, it didn't exactly make politics seem very serious.
But even if the media were to adopt a more traditional approach to reporting, young people still might not become engaged unless they're given compelling reasons to do so. A 2014 study from the New Democratic Party found that youth are attracted by "positive messages around change and hope," as opposed to hearing about how their choices affect economic and social policy.
In order to encourage young people to become engaged with politics, we need to be providing them with the right kind of information in the right way. This means encouraging youth to vote and making voting easier (including online voting), but it also means engaging youth through positive messages that make politics seem like a worthwhile pursuit.
It is difficult to say who might be more responsible for the trend of young people disengaging from politics: politicians, news media, or other sources.
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