Many people enjoy a special memory of the first time they were legally entitled to vote as a young person. I know I do.
It was the federal election of 1972. The riding was Kingston and the Islands. The three main party leaders were Pierre Trudeau for the Liberals, Robert Stanfield of the Progressive Conservatives and David Lewis representing the NDP. I’d never cast a ballot before.
I’ll come clean with how I voted then: NDP. “The party of the working man,” as my father Cliff put it at the time.
But it was the youthful shenanigans behind my vote that year that I remember most fondly.
The mother of my best friend, Ross, happened to be the president of the local Liberal party riding association. To get under her nerves during the campaign, Ross, myself, and my cousin Chuck, would scoop up NDP and Conservative election signs and, under the cover of darkness, we would replace the Liberal front yard sign of Ross’ mother with those of her NDP and Tory opponents.
After about the fifth time we pulled off this stunt, she clearly was not amused and ordered that we stop.
I share this story as a reminder that voting needn’t be seen as an act of drudgery. Voting, and the election campaigns that precede that civic duty, can be fun and memorable.
Regretfully, that seems lost on many people today. Experts say it is especially true of young people who, increasingly, opt to avoid voting altogether.
With this trend in mind, OPSEU’s executive board, acting on a recommendation from the Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYWC), has authorized a spirited campaign to get young people out to the polls for this October’s federal election.
The point of the campaign is not to tell young people which party to vote for. As a father of several voting-age children, I know if I were to try that tactic they would simply vote the other way.
The PYWC wanted to bring some humour and edginess to our “get out the vote” effort. We’ll be launching the campaign with a satirical and provocative video at OPSEU’s Young Workers
Conference in Toronto on Aug.13. After the official launch, the video will be uploaded to the OPSEU website and also available on our social media sites. The campaign, featuring a series of satirical videos, will swing into full gear in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 19 election by using multiple media platforms to get our message out.
Clearly, there is no shortage of issues facing young people in Canada today. Unemployment or under-employment are the hapless career choices confronting many college and university graduates. A tight and expensive rental housing market and sky high home prices limit their choice of accommodation. Too many are still living in a basement bedroom at Mom and Dad’s place.
But young people want to build a better world, too. They were the driving force behind the Occupy Movement and they can take much credit for bringing the issue of income inequality to the attention of our politicians. On environmental issues, today’s youth are on the frontlines of building sustainability and promoting safe and renewable energy sources.
To achieve these goals requires legislation and regulatory measures. And that means we still need elected public servants to enact progressive change.
Those changes mustn’t be left solely in the hands of voters over the age of 45 who more and more make up the bulk of those who cast election ballots.
The torch needs to be firmly passed into the hands of younger Canadians. At OPSEU, we’re hoping our campaign will make some difference.
Or, as my father also told me as a young man many years ago: “If you don’t vote, you’re leaving all the decisions up to people like me.”
Warren (Smokey) Thomas