Youth must vote

We are just days away from the federal election on May 2. We strongly urge members of the Black community, who are eligible, to make their way to the polling stations and cast their vote.

Some 50 years after the first big wave of arrivals from the Caribbean and other parts of the African Diaspora, there are still some who have lived and worked here for decades but have not become citizens. Despite paying taxes and putting down roots here they are not eligible to vote. How sad is that!

This fact is not lost on politicians who are most interested in the people who can cast a ballot. Notice that the recent focus on reaching the ‘ethnic’ vote especially by Conservative Party campaigners did not appear to include any aspect of the Black community. Maybe we are not considered ‘ethnic’. Or perhaps there is still a perception that all Black voters tilt towards the Liberals. Or worse, maybe they believe that Blacks do not vote so that courting us is a waste of their time and resources.

Black and Caribbean citizens follow the same general pattern as the larger voting population – they vote in greater numbers if they are age 55 or older.

While some Black immigrants may not have become citizens, their Canadian born children are and can therefore vote. Of the close to one million in Canada who are Black, most – 60 per cent – are 35 or younger. In the general population young people eligible to vote show the lowest turnout of any age group, that would suggest that more than half of Black Canadians eligible to vote are not punching at their weight at election time.

The phenomenon of the Barack Obama campaign rested significantly with young voters in the United States who built a solid network through Facebook and other forms of social media. It remains to be seen how much of that trend takes hold in political campaigns here since our political parties still have some work to do to engage politically apathetic Canadian youth.

It is hard to believe that when some young people were shown a picture of Conservative leader Stephen Harper this week they didn’t know who he was.

The reason there has been such focus on the Canada Pension Plan and health care is that they are among the concerns of older voters. So youth need to care more about making their voices strong in this campaign since, aside from the Liberals’ promise of education grants, there has been no distinctive promise or policy that targets the concerns of youth. How, for instance, will one of the talking points of the Conservative campaign, the building of more prisons, affect youth since they are the ones who mostly end up being entangled in the legal justice system?

Apathy among young Black voters is a serious problem when viewed against the many challenges facing that demographic. Unemployment among young Black males, especially, exceeds the unemployment rates for all youth, which is already the highest of any group in the workforce. Among youth aged 15-24 in Ontario, the unemployment rate is 25 per cent for visible minority youth, compared to 18 per cent for all youth. But Black youth unemployment is 38 per cent. Compare that to the national unemployment rate of 7.7 per cent.

Political push must come from the group most affected by this crisis. So it is up to them to get in the game to make sure that the issues that matter to them matter to the politicians, by letting them know that here is a group that will vote. As with every other interest group, young voters in our community ought to look at the policies of the various parties to see if their needs are addressed. They should see this as an important opportunity to create leverage to foster more favourable policies for employment and other opportunities for themselves.

Moreover, youth who become more politically engaged hold the potential to make the move into politics and to evolve the Canadian political landscape. After all, look what engaged young voters did in the U.S.

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