Ontario Election 2018: will youth vote?

Elections are about the future and the type of society we want to build, and who should care more about that than those most likely to be around the longest to see it?

There’s a lot at stake for young people in this Ontario election – it’s their generation that will live with the consequences of government failure to deal with climate change, income inequality, and deteriorating social services.

Unfortunately, young people consistently fail to show up to vote more than any other age group. In the 2015 federal election, for example, voter turnout among youth 18 to 24 went up by an impressive 18 per cent, but overall voter participation among youth remained nine per cent below the average for all other voters.

Much ink has been spilled trying to figure out why. One argument is particularly troubling: that political parties don’t offer enough goodies to mobilize the youth vote. To get their vote, the argument goes, political parties have to speak directly to young voters on issues that matter to them. This is a narrow view of elections as quid pro quo politics.

Elections are about the future and the type of society we want to build. And who should care more about that than those most likely to be around the longest to see it? The June 7 provincial election is no exception. The issues on the table – subsidized child care, improved access to health care, a $15 minimum wage, and more affordable post-secondary education – are all extremely relevant to youth.

People in their early 20s may still be wondering whether they want to marry and have children or become a celibate spiritual leader. It would be nice if child care costs were not one more factor to consider in their decision.

One of our recent studies found that Ontario cities have the highest child care costs in the country. Toronto heads the list with median fees for infants of $1,758 a month and for toddlers $1,354 a month.

The Liberals are promising free child care for toddlers. The NDP is pledging $12 a day child care for everyone and free coverage for households earning less than $40,000. The PC party has announced plans for a tax rebate that could allow families to recover between 26 and 75 per cent of child care costs, depending on their income.

This year the Liberal government increased the minimum wage to $14 and promised to bring it up to $15 in January 2019. If elected, the NDP would stick with the Liberal plan. The PC party would freeze minimum wage at $14 and provide a tax credit , but workers would be better off with a $15 minimum wage as opposed to a tax cut.[RT1]

Youth have an interest here, too – not only because 90 per cent of those age 15 to 19 and 54 per cent of those 20 to 24 benefited from the 20 per cent minimum wage increase last January, but also because they most likely want to live in a country where the person serving you a pint gets to have one too.

Health care is another issue that affects youth, but telling young people that they will one day get sick and need health care is as effective as telling my three-year-old son to stop jumping on the bed. Let’s try this instead: your grandparents, parents, and probably some of your friends will get sick at some point. And when they do, what kind of health care will be available to them?

Ontario should be spending $10.4 billion more annually on health care just to keep up with population growth, an aging population, and inflation. The Liberal platform includes a 4.5 per cent increase in health spending. The NDP is promising to eliminate “hallway medicine” and to increase spending by 5.8 per cent each of the next four years. The PC party is promising to cut wait times and invest in 30,000 new hospital beds.

Last but not least there is post-secondary education to consider. A 2015 analysis found that Ontario and New Brunswick have the least affordable university tuition for median-income families in the country. At the individual level this translates into the worst undergraduate hangover: post-graduation debt and, at a societal level, that some get to dream, others don’t.

In 2017, the Liberals introduced changes that increased the total number of Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) recipients and the percentage of students with access to free tuition.

NDP promises that every student who qualifies for OSAP will get a grant instead of a loan. If elected the party will also wipe out interest on outstanding loans. The PCs have yet to weigh in.

Hopefully every eligible voter, no matter how young or old, exercises the right to make history election day.

Ricardo Tranjan is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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