Canada’s new leaders must engage the student voting base

The 2023 Canadian federal election will feature new party leaders representing the Conservative and Green parties. Erin O’Toole of the Conservative Party and Annamie Paul of the Green Party are likely to face off against the current Prime Minister, the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau, and the New Democratic Party (NDP)’s Jagmeet Singh. In the years leading up to the election, O’Toole and Paul have the opportunity as new leaders of their parties to engage Canadian students. By presenting new platforms, these new candidates can target young voters whose loyalty Trudeau and Singh may lack. To gain support from the student demographic, O’Toole and Paul must heed student concerns and prioritize issues that matter to young people, such as student-based fiscal policies, racial inequality, and climate issues. 

To attract student voters, candidates must prioritize policy issues that are important to students. Erin O’Toole will be running as the new leader of the Conservative party. In the past, the Conservative Party has run on a student platform of boosting government contributions to Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP), which many families use to save for university. While RESP improvements may be appealing to students, O’Toole’s minimal policy work to change racial injustice and climate reform will likely be a turn-off to young voters. If elected, O’Toole has vowed to criminalize rail blockaders who demonstrate in solidarity with those protesting the occupation of the Wet’suwet’en territory, stating that they impede transport crucial to the Canadian economy. In terms of climate, O’Toole plans to remove the existing carbon tax levied on industries and has failed to set any targets for reducing emissions. To attract student voters, O’Toole must create a more in-depth platform with regards to Indigenous affairs and make hard commitments to combat climate change. 

The Green Party of Canada has historically centred its policies around forward-thinking social systems and the future of our climate. Their new leader, Annamie Paul, has followed suit by putting forward a progressive student platform that aims to abolish tuition and adopt programs that cancel student debt exceeding $10,000. A Green government claims they will build a new relationship with Indigenous peoples in Canada by producing a new reconciliation plan. As of their 2019 policy platforms, the party has committed to transitioning to a green economy and fully supports the carbon tax. While issues of climate and racial injustice are of great importance to voters, Paul must focus on creating progressive education policies in the coming election to maximize student support as voters aged 18-24 have stated education as their top priority while voting. 

Although both candidates have developed student platforms, O’Toole and Paul must make a point to engage with student bodies on the campaign trail. These candidates must place the concerns of Canada’s young people as one of the top priorities of their 2023 platforms. This is key to candidates’ success as student voters are becoming increasingly involved, with turnouts of voters aged 18-24 rising significantly in the past three federal elections. Indeed, in the 2019 election, student age voters showed a 68 per cent turnout, up 13 points from 55 per cent in the 2011 election. In fact, voters aged 18-34 made up the largest voting block of the 2019 federal election. 

Young voters have a history of showing up to the polls less reliably than older age demographics. As a result, candidates often neglect to acknowledge the concerns of this growing voter base. As fresh faces in Canada’s leadership race, these politicians must prioritize policy issues that matter to young people. As young voters are becoming a key voting group, O’Toole and Paul should target them in campaigning to optimize their turnout at the polls. Squandering the opportunity to engage and mobilize Canada’s largest voting block would be a great loss to both O’Toole and Paul on voting day. 

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