Election 2021 is here — and young people are paying attention

·3 min read

Cooper Price was meant to be old enough to vote in the next federal election, but the young climate activist will have to sit out another one after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called a snap election on the weekend.

Price, who is starting Grade 12, is nevertheless adamant the campaign should involve politicians stating what they will do to avert the worst environmental impacts of our industrial activity, which he hopes includes an immediate end to fossil fuel subsidies and the start of a phase out of the industry.

“If the leaders, particularly Trudeau, don't make this focused on climate change, there's going to be a lot of young voters that are going to be completely disenchanted with their party,” said Price, who has played a leading role in Toronto’s school strike movement.

“If this isn't a climate election, then I really don't know what could be, given everything that's been happening,” he said, referring to a string of recent heat waves, wildfires and other extreme weather, as well as the latest dire warning from the world’s scientific community.

Trudeau, for his part, made clear in his pitch for a majority government after two years of minority rule that “the decisions your government makes right now will define the future your kids and grandkids will grow up in.”

Younger voters at this early stage are as interested in the campaign as those aged between 30 and 59, while those 60-plus are much more likely to be into it, according to polling from Abacus Data.

For Allie Rougeot, another climate activist, politics should be less about lofty words and long-term targets and more about what government plans to do to help real people deal with an ongoing crisis.

“What I've not seen at all is an acknowledgment of what it's going to take from governments to act on climate,” she said, adding a climate lens should be applied to all policies.

“I'd like to see a whole-of-economy, whole-of-country approach where every time we do something, we understand it's going to have a climate risk or a climate benefit,” she said.

Younger people, who account for around 40 per cent of the population, will also want to hear about how a COVID-19 recovery will help them secure stable, well-paying jobs, and how to deal with rising affordability challenges.

They were hit hard by job losses when the pandemic first hit, and have taken the longest to get back into the workforce, with many young people working in industries impacted by public health restrictions.

“We’re worried about a bleak future, characterized by the gig economy, massive student debt loads, and unaffordable housing,” said Bronwyn Heerspink, a regional director for Future Majority, a youth advocacy group seeking to influence post-pandemic policy.

Future Majority had said after the initial lockdown that it wanted those in power to know young people want better provision of mental health services and a guaranteed minimum income, more affordable post-secondary education and more racial justice, after two months of surveying its 52,000 members and other youth groups.

Sophia Koukoulas, manager of communications and stakeholder relations at youth employment network First Work, said the uncertainty of youth employment can create financial insecurity and poor mental health.

“More than anything, young people want to be listened to in this election, not left behind in policy discussions,” she said, noting that their focus extends beyond a stable environment.

“Young people today are concerned about the nature of work and well-being, with strong attention to equity for barriered populations,” she said. “This means a renewed focus for young people on the transition from school to employment, so that their career pathways are not limited to the confines of attaining post-secondary education.”

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer

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