Unconventional engagement could be answer to youth turnout

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Fair Vote Kamloops, a grassroots organization promoting the use of a proportional representation voting system, is talking about democracy in an unconventional method: chatting over coffee.

Data shows that in the 2013 B.C. General Election, a total of 112,918 citizens between the ages 18 to 24 voted – less than half of the 235,615 registered.

The overall turnout for the upcoming municipal byelection is expected to be low in all age categories, but especially youth. So it’s worth asking: why are engagement levels so low?

“There’s a sense among Canadians that the level of government most deserving of their trust is municipal,” Terry Kading, a professor of Canadian studies and politics said.

“Candidates are non-partisan which has something to do with it. Voters tend to think nothing will change municipally, but also know they can go to a city councillor easier than an MLA or MP. However, most youth seem to not even realize that nothing is changing.”

Broken promises may also play a role in youth disengagement.

“When Trudeau scrapped his election promise to explore different voting methods, he probably hurt a lot of his young voters. Many of them wanted to see proportional representation tried, and there’s a demographic of them that are most likely feeling betrayed,” Kading said.

But with B.C.’s NDP-Green coalition government, some of those youth might get their wish. Premier John Horgan said he would consider holding a referendum on electoral reform in the fall 2018 municipal election.

With that referendum on the horizon, Fair Vote Kamloops wants to get out the vote.

“Let’s Talk PR is an informal coffee event, where citizens are invited to discuss the topic with members of Fair Vote Kamloops. It’s an opportunity for engagement on an issue that BC will be holding a referendum on,” event organizer and Fair Vote Kamloops member Gisela Ruckert said.

Fair Vote Kamloops will be holding a second event featuring a discussion facilitated by the Council of Canadians’ Bob Gamble.

“TRU has done a great job in fostering political awareness on campus. The Student Union, the faculty and the clubs have all grown so much. TRU is one of the more informed and active student bodies there is,” Kading said. “But Fair Vote Kamloops’ efforts might be what is needed for voters to engage with government.”