Sunday, October 6, 2019
These millennials didn't vote in 2015. But they say this election is different -- The Star
These millennials didn’t vote in 2015. But they say this election is different
By Sahar Fatima Staff Reporter
Sat., Oct. 5, 2019
Four years ago, the federal election didn’t captivate Sakeena Mahmood much. She tends to lean left, and was sure the wave of excitement around Justin Trudeau would land him the prime minister’s job, with or without her vote.
“I was a bit younger too and didn’t understand that every vote actually matters a lot,” the Barrie, Ont., resident, now 26, says. “I never thought that this is going to be something which is going to impact me so much.”
But then the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shooting happened, and Mahmood was shaken. The suspect’s manifesto mentioned French far-right party leader Marine Le Pen and also praised U.S. President Donald Trump as a symbol for white identity. For Mahmood, that hit home the connection between politics and the hateful ideologies that can lead to violence.
That realization is part of what’s now motivating Mahmood, and other millennials who didn’t vote last time, to vote in this year’s federal election. For many, the rise of populism and a fear of divisive politics in the last few years is jarring them into taking the ballot more seriously this year.
Bruce Anderson, chairman of Abacus Data, says issues around affordability, including housing and student debt, as well as climate change are top of mind for young voters this year. But alongside those two big concerns is the idea of politics becoming more polarized, particularly around diversity and equality, he says. While all that did come up in 2015, with the Conservatives’ proposed niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies and a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline, Anderson says young people may be even more attuned to it this year.
“I do believe that younger people experience more viscerally, probably because so many of them live in urban areas, this notion of ‘we can’t even contemplate being disinterested in diversity or being equivocal about diversity. It’s just who we are,’” he says.
“So when they hear, I would probably surmise, a politician like Maxime Bernier talking about ‘extreme multiculturalism,’ this is not typically going to be a message that’s going to attract young people,” Anderson says, though adding not all young people are the same. “It’s going to be a message that makes them worried about where we’re going.”
He said the backdrop for some of this is Trump, “the biggest news story” anyone interested in politics and observing issues around racism and inequality would be following.
“I think there is more anxiety about those issues than there used to be in Canada,” Anderson says. “There’s a lot of friction and tension around that issue, no question about it.”
The Star talked to young Canadians who didn’t vote in 2015 about the moments and issues that got them more motivated to vote in this election. Many of them mention the tension Anderson describes. Here’s what they have to say.
Nov. 8, 2016 — U.S. presidential election
Brandon-Richard Austin, 23, couldn’t not pay attention to the 2016 presidential race.
“It was captivating,” he says. “It was entertaining to a degree that I never thought politics was.”
Until then, Austin, an SEO editor, didn’t care much about leaders and the way governments work.
As Trump’s campaign hooked him into the world of politics, he began to study up about the electoral college and the different levels of government. Soon he was paying attention to Canadian politics too.
“Canada is not necessarily following the U.S. too much but … some of the patterns like populism are popping up here,” Austin says, giving the example of how popular far-right website Rebel media has become, and how people behave on Twitter. “There’s similar things happening in Canada with anonymous people making inflammatory statements.”
Because he’s now tuned in, Austin says he can’t help but vote.
“I’m still torn as to who I’m voting for,” he says. “In a lot of ways I do lean more to the Conservative side but I don’t really like the direction right-wing politics is taking around the world.”
June 7, 2018 — Ontario election
In the 2015 federal election, Sophie Giorno didn’t realize she wasn’t registered. She didn’t try very hard to sort that out.
“I didn’t make it a priority,” Giorno, 31, says. “I also was one of those people who didn’t think about their role. I was kind of like, ‘Oh, whatever, I’m just one person out of 30 million people. It doesn’t really matter if I don’t vote.’”
But during last year’s Ontario election, the law clerk student at Seneca College was afraid of the Progressive Conservatives winning and making changes to education in the province, so she made sure to cast a ballot.
But the results left her disappointed, particularly after cuts to Ontario Student Assistance Program grants and other social services.
“There are probably more people out there that feel like me, and if all those people voted then maybe we would have had a different outcome for the provincial election,” she says.
“I kind of see a right shifting trend in the world and it actually does really scare me a lot,” Giorno says. “I’m taking that motivation into the federal election this year.”
March 28, 2019 — Bill 21
If the New Zealand shooting made Sakeena Mahmood sit up and pay attention, Quebec’s Bill 21 is the final straw pushing her into voting action.
The new law, effective in June, prohibits some public servants from wearing religious symbols, such as a hijab, turban or kippa, at work. It’s affecting Mahmood’s best friend, a supply teacher in Montreal.
“Her job is in jeopardy,” Mahmood says. She herself fears the same sentiment could spread to other parts of Canada, possibly threatening her own future and livelihood.
“I don’t know if I’m going to wear a hijab tomorrow,” she says, explaining that the ways she chooses to practise her faith may change.
“I want a prime minister who’s going to combat that, and is able to let us know that ‘this is wrong and I’m going to stand up,’” says Mahmood, adding that she’s closely watching for each politician’s stance on the topic. “I’m taking voting very seriously this year.”
Summer of 2019 — Amazon burning and the rise of Greta Thunberg
Sachi Kikuchi’s parents always raised her to meet her civic duties, so she usually always voted in elections. But in 2015, Kikuchi was teaching English in Japan and didn’t know how to vote from abroad.
“I wanted to vote but then I didn’t end up having the time or energy to actually figure out all the steps of how I would be voting from abroad,” Kikuchi, now 32 and living in Toronto, says.
This year, populist rhetoric as well as climate change are the two issues motivating her to vote.
“It’s not just happening within Canada and North America, it’s sort of happening all over the world,” Kikuchi says of rising populism. “I think both of those issues I have been thinking about a lot.”
Climate change has been on her mind for several years now. But this year in particular, with attention being drawn to the Amazon rainforest burning as well as to young climate change warrior Greta Thunberg’s activism, Kikuchi says action on the issue is something she’s paying attention to particularly closely.
“There’s a lot more awareness and with Greta Thunberg, it just kind of skyrocketed into people’s faces finally,” she says. “But also around the time when Trump got elected in the States, that for me was the really big push for me to become even more aware and educate myself more about what’s happening around the world with politics.”
In her heart, Kikuchi wants to vote for the NDP.
“But unfortunately within the riding that I live in, I have to vote strategically,” she says.
Sahar Fatima is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @sahar_fatima