In the November 9 Pro Rep leaders’ debate, Premier John Horgan now-famously said: “If you’re woke, you know that Pro Rep is lit.” Sure, it was a total dad thing to say, but for politically engaged young people like me, it was such a refreshing change of pace. He’s saying he actually cares about youth participation.
I am increasingly frustrated by how frequently I hear older generations say young people are “apathetic” or “disengaged” when it comes to politics. Every time I hear that from a pundit, journalist, or politician, I’m confused—their words suggest young people are lazy and don’t get involved, but our actions show just the opposite.
Young people are leaders of social change in Canada and the USA. In the United States, thousands of high school students are leading the fight for gun reform laws. In Ontario, thousands of high school students walked to protest changes the Doug Ford government is making to sex education. In Richmond, BC, students have joined together to rally in support of modular housing in their neighbourhood. Across the continent, young people are at the front lines fighting for the rights of Indigenous peoples. Young people aren’t just involved — we are leading the charge.
On November 6, I watched the votes come in for the US Midterm Elections. Though it is too early to see the figures on youth voter turnout, there’s no question that millions of young people came out to the polls. The midterms resulted in a record number of women holding seats in US Congress, including the election of 29-year-old Alexandria Oscario Cortez — the youngest person ever elected to that office.
Back here in Canada, we’re making inroads as well. In the last federal election, those aged 18 to 24 had the highest increase in voter turnout at 18.3%, and those aged 25 to 34 saw an increase of over 12%. Young people not only came out to the polls – they voted for change and helped topple Harper’s Conservative government. Likewise, in the 2017 BC Election, youth voter turnout increased by more than 8% — the highest increase of any age bracket.
The activism and fight for social change, paired with these numbers make it clear: young people care, we are engaged, and we are fighting for our future.
Right now, British Columbians are being asked to vote on a new electoral system. It is an incredibly important decision: whether we want to keep the first-past-the-post system or try something different. Unfortunately, too much of the political discourse on this issue has been dominated with fearmongering and misleading comments. The “No” side released videos featuring Nazi-like soldiers goose-stepping and armed uprisings as examples of what will happen if votes are counted a different way. As young people, we have to question the opponents of Pro Rep who use alarmist, inflammatory language.
Young people feel disenfranchised with an electoral system that’s unfair and unrepresentative. Pro Rep is a system that makes every vote count. Gone will be the days where 40% of the vote gives you 100% of the power. Having a proportional system can help decrease the cynicism young people have in the political systems by making the government more reflective of the voters.
Young people don’t want to keep a system where our vote won’t always count. Instead, we will choose a system that will force political parties to cooperate with one another and, more importantly, to be accountable and truly representative of their constituents.
This referendum, young people will be voting for change. Help us make sure every vote counts.
Jenelle is a young professional living in New Westminster and studying history and sociology at the University of Manitoba.
An edited version of this article originally appeared in The Vancouver Sun