Yet young people are more estranged from the political process than ever before. Wiseman watched Montreal’s November 2013 municipal elections with dismay. Turnout hovering around 40 per cent only reinforced the uncomfortable reality that as sophisticated as youth are today, their knowledge rarely translates into engagement with political parties or voting. The Conseil jeunesse — Wiseman’s independent voluntary organization made up of 15 Montrealers between the ages of 12 and 30 — advises the executive council of the city and city hall about youth policies. “This election was a difficult one to get excited about if you were a young person, other than the idea of corruption and governance,” he says. “We’re punching below our weight.”
While Montreal’s 400,000 youth make up about 25 per cent of the population, the dozen elected officials under the age of 35 represent only about 10 per cent of councillors. “And municipal politics has a huge impact on our lives, influencing everything from roads and transport to where we live.”
Wiseman points out that there’s no shortage of young activists involved in campaigns like the Occupy movement or surrounding the environment, even as they ignore the political process. “This isn’t translating, and that’s deeply troubling and disappointing,” he says. “There are obviously some deeper questions that we have to ask ourselves about how we’re governed and how we want to be governed.”
Not only the young
Generational differences in political support were the focus of the research by Vince Hopkins, MA (public policy & public admin.) 12, who examined whether political authorities had a role to play in the fact that people are less motivated, and whether improvements in democratic performance might be relevant.
Hopkins’s research compared eight provinces, and found generally very low levels in the responsiveness of politicians and government to the demands of citizens. “At the most, no more than 25 per cent of Canadians, regardless of province, believe they have a high degree of responsiveness,” he says.
The research had three goals: To examine whether Canadians think of their governments and elected officials as responsive, to investigate inter-generational differences, and to test whether these attitudes impact political support. “Our findings show some intergenerational difference, but it was neither consistent nor linear. What this suggests is that older Canadians are not necessarily more likely to have a high degree of faith in the responsiveness of their government,” Hopkins says. “Province does matter, though, and Quebec is at the lower end of the scale.”