When I turned 18, I had already envisioned a list of seemingly grown-up things I could do — from going to the theatre to see so-bad-they're-good R-rated movies to signing up (and paying *sigh*) for my first credit card. Most of all, though, I was excited to hit the polls and vote in my first federal election. (Because nothing riles up an 18-year-old kid than federal politics and debate nights. Yes, I was that one kid.)
There was a sense of mystery that shrouded what went on behind the scenes at polling stations. I thought about the meticulous counting of each vote and the amount of people it took to run a station, the fact that thousands of votes were being tabulated across the country and that all of this was done within a span of a few hours.
It was one thing to sit through a high-school civics class watching VHS tapes and flipping through textbook pages of terminology and stock photos of happy voters. But it was another to be one of those happy voters in line and have the extra street cred to say you participated in something larger than yourself. Finally getting hold of a coveted ballot, I felt that my voice mattered for once, and someone was taking my opinion seriously.
The 18 to 24-year-old demographic has historically had the lowest voter turnout (with 66% of eligible voters in this demo voting in 2019 compared to a total of 77% of all eligible voters), but there’s a lot at stake for the over 800,000 Canadians in this age group: Entering an unstable job market, and, for some, starting school during a pandemic is a bigger incentive for young people to get involved in politics. This year, young voters are hoping to see leaders changing the narrative and invest in issues such as affordable housing, climate change, and health-care access.
In response, candidates have smartly amped up their outreach strategies on social media. The NDP have turned to TikTok where leader Jagmeet Singh advertises the party’s policies by taking part in trending sound clips and dances, as with one video that showed him criticizing Trudeau’s failed promises beside the heading “the worst idea they had.”
While the Liberals and Conservatives have yet to hop on the TikTok train, leaders have taken to more-traditional platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. One video from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau strategically uses short, selfie-style video reels to convey his party’s stances while Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has posted short edited clips on Twitter, often featuring him behind a podium. Green Party leader Annamie Paul has used a light-hearted approach in her Instagram reels, rapping and having fun with campaign staff and speaking to a crowd of supporters advertising her party’s progressive platform. While political platforms aren’t the most algorithm-friendly content, these attempts have undoubtedly raised some awareness among younger voters about the upcoming election and where the parties stand.
I spoke to Gen-Z and millennial women across the country on what it feels like being a first-time voter and why voting matters to them.
Roweena, 21, London, ON
Why I’m voting in the 2021 election… Being born and going to school here, I know I should be more educated about this and practise my civic duty. Living in the U.S. for over 10 years, I have just been feeling kind of annoyed with the political situation there, seeing how much voter turnout can impact results of an election (as seen in the 2016 presidential election). Voting gives me a sense of control and makes me feel represented.
Who I'm voting for... I’m honestly not sure yet as I have yet to see each candidates' campaign and platforms. So far, the NDP seems like a top contender as I can easily relate as a woman of colour and I share the same personal values as Jagmeet Singh being Sikh. I believe that if you're electing someone, you need to feel comfortable trusting that person, even outside of their policies.
The key election issues for me ... As a student, border restrictions have affected me a lot, [not] being able to see my family in the U.S. I think there are a lot of people who need to travel back and forth, whether it's for work or school. I think there's a lot of confusion on setting proper restrictions on both sides of the border.
I get my election information from… I really try to diversify where I get my news. I look at a lot of local publications such as The Globe and Mail and The London Free Press. I really don't believe in just getting news from one source, especially because of how much bias can go into one piece, whether it's intentional or not.
The social media effect… It 100% influences me. Very common especially among Gen Z because we're on our phones all the time and the algorithms on social media platforms really push what issues we are interested in. If I'm talking about elections with friends I’d say, “I was actually hearing about that on Instagram.”
When I think of voting, the first thing that comes to mind is… Having the freedom to choose who resonates with you without the fear of being silenced or censored.
Sarah M., 19, Kelowna, B.C
Why I’m voting in the 2021 election… I think it's important to vote because we have been given this voice and I think everybody should use it.
Who I'm voting for... NDP because I think, it's very clear, there's been this tactic that the Liberals say, “Oh, don't vote for the NDP unless you want the Conservatives to win." And then everybody votes Liberal out of fear. I think it's important to vote for who I think would be the best fit for the country, which I feel is the NDP.
The key election issues for me… The environment and what candidates are doing to address carbon tax. B.C. is definitely struggling with climate change right now because the entire province is on fire. I think Jagmeet Singh has a really strong platform for stopping carbon emissions and reversing climate change.
I get my election information from… I honestly haven't done a ton of research yet. I look at Kelowna’s local news sites. I’ve also been looking at TikTok and seeing what other users have to say about candidates.
The social media effect… Social media has such a big impact on everything. Anybody can say anything and everybody tries to convince other people to see their viewpoint. I do think that because everything is unfiltered, fake news is an issue.
When I think of voting, the first thing that comes to mind is... I’m excited to vote for the first time because I was 17 during the last federal election, so I didn't quite make it. I get to use my voice to put in a vote for what I think is right and what is best. There's a whole new generation of people that were 17 during the last election and are now eligible. I think we can really swoop in and change something for the better.
Maya H., 19, Ottawa, ON
Why I’m voting in the 2021 election... I feel that it’s my duty as a Canadian to vote. As someone who has strong opinions on the government and how the country is run, it only feels right to use my ability to vote to hopefully enact change.
Who I'm voting for... I’m deciding based on their main platform as well as the fact that I feel Canada is in need of some change in government. Having more NDP seats (if not a new prime minister) I feel will help elevate many issues that are pressing at this time.
The key election issues for me… The environment, reconciliation, and a more-affordable way of life for Canadians, particularly young people.
I get my election information from... I try to get my information from a variety of sources, including the parties’ websites, reputable news outlets, and conversations with friends and family who are also informed.
The social media effect… I wouldn’t say social media has a major impact on my vote, but I do appreciate Jagmeet Singh’s online presence and I feel it makes me feel more connected to him as a young person.
When I think of voting, the first thing that comes to mind is… Duty.
Aaliyah H., 19, Halifax, N.S.
Why I’m voting in the 2021 election... I already voted in the Halifax provincial election, and I voted NDP because they align with my values. I look forward to voting in the federal election.
Who I'm voting for... The main factor in the way I voted was the rent control that NDP candidates promised. I live in Halifax where there is a 2% rental vacancy, a terrible housing crisis, and limited resources. Landlords are taking advantage of the unfortunate situation a lot of people are in and I’m seeing it firsthand.
The key election issues for me... I’m concerned that our federal government will end up being Conservative, which is something I’m terrified of as a marginalized person. I’m a visible minority, with mental illness, and also part of the queer community, and now my province has a government that makes me feel unsafe and unwanted.
I get my election information from... First through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, and I then usually take some time to fact-check or cross examine sources before sharing to my public platforms.
The social media effect... I see candidates on a more-personal level from seeing their campaigns and personal life on social media — for example, Jagmeet Singh and his wife expecting their first child. I saw what they chose to share with their community on a smaller scale and what was important to them. When I think of voting, I think of young people. I think we’re tired. I’m expecting to see a huge increase in the statistics of young people who vote. I think people are going to be surprised by how young people voted, and I think people are going to be surprised by the changes we make as we work our way into positions of power.
When I think of voting, the first thing that comes to mind is... Change.
Talia, 18, Markham, ON
Why I’m voting in the 2021 federal election… Exercising my right to vote is an easy way to make a difference and demand change. I firmly believe that you shouldn't complain if you choose not to vote. And as a visible minority and a woman, past generations of women put up a fight so that I would be able to vote today.
Who I'm voting for... I'm still undecided. I want to vote for the NDP candidate in my riding based on their platform, however I'm concerned about vote splitting. If my preferred candidate has virtually no chance of winning in my riding, then I'll consider voting for the Liberal candidate, which wouldn't be the best or worst choice.
The key election issues for me… Climate action, reconciliation, addressing systemic racism, affordable housing, and a fair, just, and equitable recovery from a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted minority and low-income Canadians.
I get my election information from… Elections Canada and major party websites. I believe that the most important thing to do as a first-time voter is to inform yourself about where and how to vote, and to familiarize yourself with the candidates and their platforms. I also regularly read the news and use social media, but I make sure to look at different sources and points of view.
The socialmedia effect… While I love to use social media and I believe that it is an excellent way to reach out to young voters, my decision on who to vote for is not based on things I read or saw on TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter. I only started using social media two years ago, and I knew who I wanted to vote for before then. For context, I've been engaged in politics and reading party platforms since I was 11, regularly watching the news and keeping updated.
When I think of voting, the first thing that comes to mind is… Making a difference in my community.
Sarah T., 28, Toronto
Why I’m voting in the 2021 federal election… Not only am I practising my right as a Canadian, but I feel like I have enough time to do my own research on each candidate and vote for the right person to lead our country. I’ve never voted before because of hesitancy on whether or not my vote counted and not being involved in politics, but I’m looking forward to voting for the first time.
Who I'm voting for... Right now, I am undecided. I absolutely vote based on platforms and issues that matter to me, especially firsthand seeing the effects of COVID-19 on our country.
The key issues for me include... Due to COVID-19 and living through many lockdowns in Ontario, I see that many people’s livelihoods and well-being are at stake, and we need a government that will look after our best interests, ensuring our job market is stable, and that our standard of living is affordable (especially living in Toronto).
I get my election information from... Credible news sources such as The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, and friends who are also knowledgeable about Canadian politics.
The social media effect... I don’t vote for someone based on social media presence or what I see since anyone can post. Though, at the same time, I am not really sure who I am voting for.
When I think of voting, the first thing that comes to mind is... The welfare of my community and creating a better future.