Trudeaumania

Prior to the October 19 election, this term was reserved for the hype that surrounded Pierre Trudeau’s 1968 federal election victory. It was a time during which the excitement of Canadians over their new Prime Minister was so tremendous that they likened it to the fever that surrounded The Beatles. 47 years later, Trudeau’s eldest son, Justin, enjoyed his own version of Trudeaumania when Canadians participated in what became the highest voter turnout since 1993.

Regardless of where you fall along the political spectrum, there is no denying that Justin Trudeau has the it factor. Canadians haven’t been this magnetized by a political leader since Jack Layton’s messages of hope and change propelled the New Democrats into the official opposition in 2011. Indeed, the combination of a charismatic leader and increased youth engagement seemed to be what was needed to secure a landslide Liberal majority. The question is whether or not this resurrected enthusiasm will persist in future elections. We cannot guarantee that there will always be a likeable leader like Layton or Trudeau running for Prime Minister. Remove them from the equation and something tells me that efforts to increase youth voter turnout may fail to be as successful as they were during this past election.

Many young Canadians approach voting age with little knowledge about the country’s political system. Then, as soon as they reach 18, the responsibility of becoming informed is heaved upon their shoulders, paired with the expectation that they will miraculously be inspired to learn everything there is to know. Some will rise to the occasion, but we cannot realistically expect this of everyone. This means that we need a more pervasive strategy than offering advanced polls and free Uber rides in order to encourage young people to vote. After all, the biggest barrier to youth political engagement continues to be a lack of democratic literacy. Rather than blaming Canada’s youth for their failure to self-educate, it would be more productive to incorporate a healthy dose of political knowledge into school curriculum. This would allow students an opportunity to become informed before they reach voting age. The approach could be similar to that of sex education: taught to youngsters prior to the age of consent with hopes that it prevents them from engaging in risky behaviour down the road. Educating young students in democracy may help to avoid political apathy, a phenomenon which can harbour its own negative repercussions.

To say that voting is easy is an all-too simplistic reduction of the system. Sure, anyone can mark an X on a ballot, but it would be even more effective if people fully understood how Canadian politics actually works. Getting youth to care about exercising their civil liberties needs to go beyond making the physical act of voting accessible. It would be better to prioritize democratic literacy in schools. Whether or not teaching students the pythagorean theorem was a valuable use of everyone’s time is still being contested among high school alumni, but the likelihood of them benefiting from political knowledge goes without question.