By Andrew Kemle, November 15 2016 —
On Nov. 8, the United States elected Donald Trump — a populist who utilized divisive rhetoric throughout his campaign — as their 45th president. This year’s voter turnout also reached a 20-year low of only 55.4 per cent.
There are varying explanations for Trump’s surprising victory, but the low voter turnout played a significant role. Older individuals — who are typically more conservative — vote far more often and are a more reliable block than younger generations, who typically lean more to the centre or left.
It has never been more important for young people in Canada — particularly post-secondary students — to vote, not just in federal elections but provincially and municipally as well. While it’s tempting to look at our neighbors to the south and laugh, the possibility of a Trump-like demagogue is not a far reality.
An Ipsos Poll conducted just after the American election noted that nearly 77 per cent of Canadian respondents would consider supporting a candidate that, like Trump, promised to be tough on crime, immigration, and “shift expenditures from international development in other countries to priorities in Canada.” That’s despite international aid accounting for a paltry two per cent of the federal budget.
While the vast majority of those polled believed Trump delivered his message in an overly aggressive manner, 60 per cent believed Canada was too politically correct — a similar claim that has been made by Trump supporters such as Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity about the U.S.
Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has already stated that she wants to bring Trump’s message to Canada and considers herself to be the Canadian version of Trump.
Leitch made headlines when she proposed screening immigrants for “Canadian values” — something opposed by members of all major political parties. Despite the controversy, Leitch is in the running to be named the new leader of the Conservative Party, and in the most recent polls she is leading the field with 19 per cent of polled conservatives supporting her bid for leadership.
At a provincial level, candidates like Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Jason Kenney have also tried to tap into the same populist anger by supporting discriminatory policies like the “Barbaric Practices Hotline” — Kenney’s own invention when he was immigration minister — or the infamous banning of the Niqab that became a political hotpoint in the last Canadian federal election. While there’s little that Kenney can do in terms of immigration policy at the provincial level, there is a real possibility that two controversial, self-styled populist candidates could find their way into the upper echelons of Canadian politics with rhetoric and policies similar to Trump’s.
Had more American Democrats come out and voted on Nov. 8 — especially in key states like Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan — the election results would have turned out differently. And while the numbers are still being compiled, the youth vote in America dropped from 51 per cent in 2008 to 45 per cent in 2012. The same will likely be true for 2016, as polling surveys like Survey Monkey showed that a large millennial vote would have given the election to Hillary Clinton in a landslide.
If you compare this with Canada, where in 2015 a record turnout for young voters helped put Justin Trudeau well into a majority government, it should be clear the kind of political power the millennial vote can hold.
But this is only if we vote. Older generations are far better at getting to the polls and are the ones who vote for candidates like Trump, Leitch and Kenney.
If you political views don’t aligh with candidates like Trump, then your vote has never been more important. You are voting not just for a candidate that most closely shares your own views, but for a candidate that you know will represent your friends and family in a way that won’t put them or their lifestyle at risk. You’re voting to ensure that Canada remains friendly and open, and doesn’t succumb to the reactionary backlash against progress that has swept nations like the United Kingdom and now the U.S.
Your vote has always been important, but with candidates like Trump waiting in the wings, it’s more crucial than ever to be politically engaged.
Andrew Kemle will eventually graduate with a degree in Political Science, meanwhile, he writes a monthly column on Canadian politics called Slactivist Monthly.