Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No Reprieve for the Environment as Slacktivists Hand Majority to Canadian Conservatives

The 2011 Canadian federal election vindicates those who characterize young people as apathetic. Had Canada's youth voted in larger numbers they could have prevented a Conservative majority, instead they generated a lot of online buzz, but failed to pull the trigger when it counted. In many parts of the country it appears that the under 30s did not leave their computers and cell phones long enough to cast a vote.

Although we will not have hard data from Elections Canada for a few weeks, publications like Saanich News are reporting low youth vote turnout: "Despite expectations, early numbers suggest social media hype before Monday’s election did not translate into more young people making it to the polls."

The election of US President Barack Obama succeeded due in large part to the youth vote. Many were hoping that similar youth involvement in Canada would impede the Conservative's assault on the environment. With fewer than 14 million ballots cast in the last federal election, Canada's 5.5 million Canadians under the age of 30 could have been a game changer.

The reason why younger voters are so important is because they tend to favor parties other than the Conservatives. In the 2008 federal election less than 40 percent of young people voted and although advanced polling suggested that we would see a surge of young voters, Canada's youth did not materialize in sufficient numbers to deny a Conservative majority.

The fact that the Conservatives won 167 seats indicates that young people did not get out and vote en masse. Although Canada's youth did help propel the NDP to a second place finish with 31 percent of the popular vote. An “orange crush” of historic NDP support swept through Quebec, parts of Ontario and the Prairies to give the party 102 seats. “You, young Canadians, are an inspiration and a source of hope for our country’s future,” NDP leader Jack Layton told a large crowd in downtown Toronto.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff resigned after his party lost more than half their seats leaving them with 34.“We’ve seen tonight, I think, the emergence of a polarization in Canadian politics,” a defeated Ignatieff told supporters in Toronto. The people may be polarized, but the power is now in the hands of the Conservatives. Canadians failure to vote against the Conservatives have given a majority to a party that will aggressively support tar sands oil and largely ignore the environment and the green economy.

In British Columbia, Green Party leader Elizabeth May won the party’s first-ever elected seat in Saanich—Gulf Islands. The Green Party's first seat along with Liberal losses and NDP gains make this a historic election. This election is also historic as a missed opportunity to reverse Canada's anti-environment trajectory.

According to an early Elections Canada report, 61 percent of eligible Canadians voted in the 2011 federal election. The 2011 turnout was only slightly more than 2008's dismal electoral participation of 59 percent.

More than 70,000 youth had pledged to vote as part of the “I Will Vote” campaign, but efforts to boost the youth vote with social media and vote mobs were insufficient to prevent a Conservative majority. The outcome of the 2011 election indicates that while Canadian youth like online campaigns, they are not interested in doing much to manage climate change, even when it concerns an action as simple as voting.

Some attribute lower than expected youth voter turnout to a lack of engagement by Canada's political parties and the need for more face-to-face mobilization. The truth is the 2011 election results show that Canada's youth are indeed an apathetic group of slackers, (hence the expression slacktivists). Even though the under 30s claim to care about efforts to manage climate change, through their inaction they have effectively given the Conservatives carte blanche to continue to ravage the environment.

Young Canadians could have moved beyond raising awareness and started changing the world. Instead the under 30s stayed home in many parts of the country. Canada's youth missed a historic opportunity to use their democratic rights to lead the country into the future and enjoin the battle against climate change.

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

Next: The Last Best Hope to Combat Climate Change

Related Posts
Youth Vote May Determine the Outcome of the Canadian Federal Election
Vote for Canada Vote for the Environment Vote for Change
Strategic Voting by Canada's Youth Threatens Conservatives
Social Media Mobilizing Youth in the Canadian Federal Election
Leadnow: Voting for Change in Canada
Leadnow's Declaration For Change
Video: Leadnow Interview on CPAC
Video: Vote Mobs Getting Youth Involved in Canada's Democracy
Video: Leadnow's My Canada
Environmental Issues in the 2011 Canadian Federal Election
Environmental Platforms of Canada's Federal Parties in 2008
Canadian Conservatives Repudiation of the Environment in 2008
Canada's Conservatives at Odds with the Public on Climate Change
Conservatives Ignore Canadians While Jeopardizing the Environment and the Economy
Canada's Conservative Government Opposes Kyoto and Hampers Progress at COP16
World Urges Canada to Fight Climate Change
The State of Canada's Environment
Canada is a World Leader in GHG Emissions
WWF's Canadian Living Planet Report
Green Market Opportunity Being Missed by Canada
Why Canadian Environment Minister Resigned
Conservatives Ignore Canadians While Jeopardizing the Environment
Copenhagen Accord: Canada to Reduce its GHG Emissions
The Impact of a Climate Change Deal on Canada
Conservative Budget: No Green for Canada
Canada Votes: Environmental Politics
Green Policy Debated in Canadian Parliament


Amy Fox said...

Do you have any data from this election that speaks to voting as a function of age?

Amy Fox said...

Do you have any data from this election that speaks to voting as a function of age? What percentages are we talking about?

Foundation for Democratic Advancement said...

It is not just slacktivists, but ultimately the unfair electoral system, which favors the dominant parties and large media corporations. Harper had only 24.3% of popular support. In a more fair electoral system, in which there is an equal playing field for all registered political parties, Harper's popular support would be even less.

Mary L. said...

Here is an interesting article on the Student Mock Vote, which is held in high schools across Canada.

The 'youth vote' is not necessarily synonymous with a progressive vote.

embarassedoftheadultsinthiscountry said...

Are you kidding me?!?! You're pinning this on young ppl?! All the young ppl I know are more politically and socially engaged than the majority of 40+somethings I know. The 3 ppl I've come across who haven't voted are 52, 39, and 40ish respectively....and included 'making dinner' and 'it won't count' among their pathetic/apathetic excuses of why they didn't exercise their right. How can you possibly blame a demographic without evidence?! The one demographic that can be unequivocally blamed for all sort of ill is the baby boomer generation and all the damage they've done to our environment. THANKS!!!

The Green Market Oracle said...

Thank you for all your comments. whether or not we agree, I think it is important that we discuss these issues so that we can formulate a winning strategy to get politicians involved in efforts combat climate change.

To Mary L: Thank you for the article, I acknowledge that the Tories have isolated pockets of support amongst young Canadians. Although Harper has some support from the under 30s (about 15- 20%), this is the demographic that polls indicate are least likely to support the Conservative agenda.

To Amy Fox: My calculations are based on an analysis of the number of Canadians that voted (14 million) and the size of the Canadian youth population (5.5 million). As well as the fact that every poll indicates that younger voters are the least likely to support the Conservatives. As more than a third of the voting population, young Canadians could have made a serious impact in this high stakes election.

To The Foundation for Democratic Advancement: Part of the reason why I am so outraged by the Conservative victory is the fact that Harper will use his majority to make the electoral funding process more American (ie deny government funding and open the process to unlimited private donations). I support election reform that provides equitable resources to all parties but the lack of youth participation makes that even less likely. BTW Mr. Harper's camp took almost 40 percent (39.7%) of the popular vote.

To embarrassedabouttheadultsinthiscountry: I follow and support the social and political advocacy of young people and I share your assessment. However, there appears to be a disconnect that keeps them from standing up when they are most needed, ie at the ballot box. You are entirely correct to attribute the environmental crisis we face to the baby boomers, Most studies indicate that those most likely to question the veracity of climate change are the over 55s. This is precisely my point, given the fact that younger people are the least resistant and the most aware of the reality of the environmental crisis we face we need to ask the question, if the youth won't vote for change who will?

MM said...

The proof is in the pudding my friends, let's consult the 2008 federal election voter turnout statistics shall we? The youth vote (18-24 year olds) was the lowest, at only 37.4%. It increases steadily from there to reach a high of 68.4% for the 65-74 year olds. I can only assume that the 2011 results will mirror this, but given the similar overall voter turnout, I don't think we'll see a large change in the trend.

The Green Market Oracle said...

According to a May 2011 Elections Canada survey youth voter participation has been declining for many years and is a main contributor to the overall decline in turnout in Canada. Interestingly the survey also found that young people who relied on television as their main source of information about the election were less likely to vote. Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand is calling for a national strategy to target young voters to try to engage (or re-engage) them in our democracy.

For more information see: