Which Do You Know: Bieber’s Favourite Colour? Or Your MPP?

A radio announcer recently claimed that more eligible voters know Justin Bieber’s favourite colour than the name of their MPP. Is he right? By Megan Powell

Shortly after our most recent provincial election, I heard a disturbing fact on the radio. The announcer claimed that more eligible voters know Justin Bieber’s favourite colour than the name of their MPP. Whether or not this is actually accurate, the idea that this is quite probable is very concerning.

It got me wondering: How have people become more engaged with celebrities and Hollywood trivia than what is occurring in their own country? Why does Perez Hilton probably get more daily hits than most local newspapers? How is it that we as a society have become so disengaged from politics? When did we stop believing that as a collective, we have the ability to change and shape the way our country is run? I’m not talking about the many people who do still believe this (and thank god for them), but I am thinking of the more than half the Ontario population who are so disconnected from politics that they felt no reason to participate in this past provincial election.

When Barack Obama was running for President of the United States only a few years ago, almost every single Canadian I talked to was, in some way or another, following the U.S. Presidential elections. On the night he was inaugurated, my Facebook was inundated with quotations of inspiring comments from the first black American President. I recall wishing that Canadians would one day soon be as inspired by one of our own leaders as we were about our neighbour downstairs. Fast forward a few years to our 2011 Federal Election, which saw Jack Layton and his NDP team make history by surging ahead to become the official opposition. Although voter turnout was still a dismal 61% of the population, there was clear evidence that Canadians wanted change. Jack Layton became a political superstar, especially so for many young Canadians, who seemed to be able to relate to the NDP’s platform more than any of the other parties’.

When Mr. Layton unexpectedly passed away later this same year, social media was again inundated with memorials and inspiring quotes from the influential leader. I saw Jack Layton as somewhat of a Canadian Obama, one who had the charisma to draw people in, but also the genuine care and passion to really get things done. With the upcoming provincial election looming, I had high hopes that my fellow young Canadians would turn out in droves to support their beliefs, voting for issues at the forefront of politics. Encouraging youth (age 18-24) in particular to vote has been a challenge for years now, as historically, they comprise the lowest voter turnouts. I felt hopeful that Mr. Layton, more than anyone, could increase voter turnout among young Canadians.

Unfortunately, we broke a new record here in Ontario during this past provincial election, and not in a positive way. The election saw the lowest voter turnout since Confederation (1867). According to estimates from Elections Ontario, a record-low ratio of 49.2% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2011 provincial election. If you take a closer look at the numbers, you’ll discover that the Liberals earned 37.5% of the vote, which means they managed to return to power with the support of only about 18% of eligible voters. Regardless of which party you support, that number is disconcerting.

A look at some of the reasoning behind those who failed to vote is even more disturbing. Excuses ranged from “The parties are all the same anyway” to “What difference would it have made if I voted?” The difference would have been huge. For one, perhaps we would have a government with a majority, which itself is huge, regardless of what party you support. We should all be looking at the legitimacy of our provincial government when they hold less than a quarter of the population’s support. We live in a democratic country, but that number doesn’t speak of democracy.

So how do we convince more people to vote? How do we convince the apathetic individuals that not only is it their right to vote, but also their civic responsibility? How do we get the message across that because we live in a democratic country, we have the right to vote in every election, and we should most definitely exercise this right? People across the globe are still fighting each and every day for something that so many of us take for granted.

I used to wish that voting be mandatory, that every single eligible voter be made to vote because it was the law. But recently I took a step back. I realized this is not the best option. These people who don’t vote would do nothing beneficial for the system if they’re so uninvolved as to not even know the name of their MPP or what each running party stands for. The problem needs to be addressed at a much deeper level. We need to ensure citizens are not only interested in issues, but also informed.

Most importantly, this transformation needs to happen at the youth level. We need to garner more interest from an early age, encouraging young people to become involved in issues that are important to them and to keep informed on matters occurring throughout the country. Just as the U.S. 2008 Presidential election targeted youth, Canada also needs to instill some large-scale programs to do the same, but not just temporarily. This should be embedded in school curriculum and in initiatives that attract young people to the causes. The movement needs to be led by local governments and schools and also by non-profit organizations. We need to do as much as possible to ensure that people, youth included, understand that voting is not only a right, but also a responsibility.

As Jack Layton believed, young people in this country are one of the most important groups to listen to, draw inspiration from, and encourage. In his final letter to the country, he specifically targeted young Canadians, saying that we “need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.” We are the generation that will face some of our country’s, and world’s, greatest challenges. Mr. Layton felt that the energy, vision, and passion for justice shown by young Canadians are what our country needs today. If Mr. Layton believed we have the power to change our country, why does it seem we don’t believe in ourselves?

Oh, and for the record, Bieber’s favourite is purple.