Why aren’t young people interested in local elections?

Line-ups to vote in local elections aren’t usually full of young people.

But if many young people are apathetic about elections, it might be because they don’t feel there is much at stake.

Young people who can’t afford property aren’t directly paying taxes, so they care less about how that money is spent and who makes those decisions. That’s one hypothesis that University of the Fraser Valley students Ashley McDougall and Adam Magalhaes say may explain lower turnout rates.

Youth may also be unaware of what services are the responsibility of the municipal government versus those that fall to the province, the co-presidents of UFV’s Political Science Student Association told The Current.

Poor education about municipal politics is a big contributor to why Magalhaes believes young people are disinterested in municipal politics. They don’t realize how local government can have an impact on issues important to them.

Last year’s disasters put those issues into focus for Magalhaes.

“I think especially after the floods, leadership is something that has shown to be one of the biggest things we should be looking for in a candidate,” he said.

The problem, Magalhaes said, is that those in power are not proactive enough.

“With the floods, for example, that could have been prevented.”

Magalhaes finds the City of Abbotsford’s approach to housing development is similar—not proactive. He also believes the information needs to be more accessible to the public and there should be more consultation on housing projects.

“Hundreds of families moving into a particular area, that makes a huge impact. And amenities, parks, roads, those are all concerns that should be taken into account,” he said.

Magalhaes has lived in Abbotsford for five years. But he isn’t eligible to vote in October because he isn’t yet a citizen.

“I like Abbotsford. It’s my home. And even though I can’t vote, I don’t feel like it takes away from my voice,” he said. “I can voice my concern in different ways.”

For now, Magalhaes does that by choosing where to volunteer his time.

Although Magalhaes won’t be voting, his co-president will be casting her first ballot in a municipal election.

Like Magalhaes, McDougall is 21 years old and entering her fourth year of studies.

She admits the municipal election process is new to her, but she’s learning along the way.

“I’m not super-familiar, honestly, with usually how mayoral and municipal campaigns really go and how they do campaigning,” she said.

McDougall will be casting her ballot in Langley Township but she’ll be paying close attention to the race in Abbotsford too.

“I live in Langley and then go to school and work in Abbotsford,” she said. “Just given how expensive life is getting, and we live in times of high costs and high inflation, the most important issues for me are definitely the taxes and housing affordability.” (Only homeowners directly pay municipal property taxes, but renters indirectly pay for taxes and utilities through their rent.)

McDougall is looking to see her concerns addressed in the mayoral platforms.

“Given that the current mayor is not running again, I think it’ll definitely probably be a shift within the culture of the township, potentially, and what issues the municipality will focus on,” she said.

But McDougall isn’t sure yet if she wants to see a shift.

What isn’t likely to change is the rapid growth seen in the Fraser Valley. That growth doesn’t alarm McDougall; it’s a lack of strategic planning that she finds concerning.

“I think even in Langley we see this where our roads are just—the traffic can be so bad on 208 Street, for example, 200 Street even,” she said.

McDougall wants to know that her municipal government is considering surrounding infrastructure when approving new developments in a neighbourhood.

Issues of importance can drive voter turnout among all demographics. A Chilliwack school board by-election last year saw five times as many ballots cast than in previous years—many of them likely young people.

Traditional issues were not at the centre of that race. Rather, it was a battle about the city’s political culture.

Young Abbotsford voters will soon get to question the city’s mayoral candidates, and hear their responses. The UFV Student Union Society has scheduled a townhall on Sept. 29 at 6pm. The event is open to the public.

Outside of in-person events, McDougall’s says candidates should seek to meet voters where they’re at—and for people her age that’s online. Candidates who aren’t yet active on social media should consider a crash-course in managing an online presence.

Politics is not a one-way street. Young people tend to be much more interested in federal politics, Magalhaes said.

“That’s part of the problem, I think.”

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