It is difficult to dispute the fact that many people these days just don’t give a crap about politics.
In the recent by-election in Winnipeg-North, with a recorded population of 79,366 and 51,198 listed voters, the total voter turnout (counting spoiled ballots) was a dismal 15, 856 or 30.97 percent. Pulling out my handy dandy calculator, this also infers that victor Kevin Lamoureux won with only 14.26 per cent of listed voters. I will let that stat speak for itself.
Although it is not a necessary requirement for casting a ballot, try and imagine how many of those 15,856 total voters were politically knowledgeable? This idea is a tad bit scary.
Now before you try and argue semantics by asking me to define “knowledgeable,” I define knowledgeable as knowing your incumbent’s history, knowing the platforms of the candidates and knowing more than the first name you see on a ballot. It is a pretty lenient definition if you ask me.
Despite these horrific numbers in Winnipeg-North, this problem is hardly exclusive to this particular case. It is a national, provincial, municipal and student issue. To refresh your memory, our current UMSU executive was elected with a little over 10 per cent of the popular vote! Yikes.
In first year criminology courses, you are taught the various theories of criminologists, and to put it simply, why “it is not a criminal’s fault that they have become a criminal.” Well, whom do we have to blame for our political apathy? Was it our parents, our governments or maybe even society as a whole?
When thinking back to my earliest memories of education on the subject of Canadian political process, it is difficult to find any distinct events prior to POLS 1500 (Introduction to Political Studies) in my first year at the University of Manitoba. I remember the standard “Louis Riel is the father of Manitoba” spiel and the “how a bill is passed in the House of Commons” bit in Grade 9, but to be honest, the subject of politics in its most basic form was completely absent from my K to 12 educational experience.
Perhaps political apathy is not just an individual’s failure as a member of Canadian society, but also a failure of our provincial governments to educate the youth on the importance of political involvement?
Politicians seem to preach that improving our youth’s knowledge of politics is an important goal on their agendas. Yet, at the end of the day, they throw up their hands asking themselves, “What do we do to get youth involved!?” They don’t stop to think that perhaps the same method that the government uses to indoctrinate our youth around issues on colonialization, Canadian mosaic, acceptance and tolerance, could be used to solve the sickness that is youth political apathy. But excuse me for suggesting that we teach our young to be effective, knowledgeable and involved citizens of society.
This also has nothing to do with indoctrinating our youth with political agendas, as some people may be hesitant towards incorporating partisan politics into the mainstream education system. It is about enforcing the values and the idea that politics is essential for youth to express themselves in society, to stand up for what they believe in to make decisions that will someday affect the entire country as a whole. For example, students may very well learn that interest groups are more effective tools for self-expression than political parties. It is about giving the youth the knowledge to help make these important decisions.
In order to improve this youth apathy, which eventually transforms into late adult apathy, we must properly socialize our youth to incorporate politics into their every day lives from an early age. Just how we teach our children that racism is inherently bad and that multiculturism, sharing and acceptance is inherently good, we must teach them that they have a duty and obligation to our society to educate themselves on the issues and become an active participant in the body politic.
To ensure the legitimacy of Canadian democracy, it is absolutely essential that our youth be taught to use democracy and the objective value of politics.
Kyle Mirecki is a fourth-year political studies honours student.