COVID-19 may push more Canadians to pay attention to the election campaign

Aug 19 2021, 7:10 am

Ross Dickson has never attended an election event or debate, but the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his life has finally made him interested in following the federal campaign closely.

“Me and all my friends, I don’t want to say generation, but everyone I know, we’re even more politically charged,” the 29-year-old said.

“I am now definitely committing to watching, attending debates online, and trying to ask as many questions as possible because these [politicians] are going to spend our tax money in dumb ways.”

A few days after the campaign began, some Canadians are not following the race yet while others have started paying attention to the parties’ promises as the effects of the pandemic have raised their awareness of politics.

Sixty-two percent of respondents to a recent survey conducted by Leger in collaboration with The Canadian Press said they would follow the campaign either closely or very closely.

“Not a bad level of public engagement, all things considered,” said Andrew Enns, Leger’s executive vice-president.

The online survey of 2,007 Canadians, conducted August 13 to 15, cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered truly random samples.

Enns said the poll shows that voter attentiveness is lower among those who are 18 to 34 years old compared to the older population.

“That would reflect the general tendencies in terms of who’s ultimately going to turn out and vote in this campaign.”

While Dickson was growing up in the Scarborough neighbourhood of Toronto as the son of two deaf parents, his family always relied on the promises of political parties regarding public services for people with disabilities.

Now a database administrator at a private health clinic, Dickson said governments should prioritize addressing the housing, climate, and health care crises Canadians are facing.

Federal governments have not yet put in place any transformative policies to fix the fundamental issues the pandemic has exacerbated, he said.

“People are losing their apartments. People are immigrating here, promised a good life, and they’re actually tricked, basically, into working low-wage jobs and there’s no hope of getting out. School is expensive. Everything is expensive,” he said.

He said guaranteeing universal basic income is an example of a policy he would like to see included in federal parties’ platforms, especially after the success of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in helping struggling Canadians during the pandemic.

The executive director of Apathy is Boring, a non-partisan organization that works to educate young voters and get them involved in politics, said parties can attract more young voters to their campaigns by including issues that matter to them in their platforms.

Samantha Reusch said whether or not young people trust that federal parties can meaningfully address their priorities determines how much they will engage with the election campaign.

“I’ve never met a young person who doesn’t care about anything,” she said.

Candidates and the media should show the ties between the policies of federal parties and the lives of young people, Reusch said.

“That way, they can make those connections and allow [young people] to find space within that process.”

Ottawa University law professor Errol Mendes said parties should be clear about the foundations of their political approaches and the goals they want to achieve in the short, medium, and long-term to respond to the needs of society in order to engage more people.

“That’s not happening,” he said.

“I’m afraid I have to say the media is part of the problem. It always comes into a horse race: Who’s up, who’s down, who’s always looking really bad, etc. And that’s really not conducive, in the long run, to how democracies should work and to thrive.”

Camille Labchuk, a voter who is extremely engaged in politics, said she is driven by frustration at federal inaction on the policies she cares about. But that same frustration might force others to give up and not follow the news, said the animal rights lawyer and former Green party member.

“I can understand how for other people it leads them to turn out of the democratic process, because they don’t see politicians addressing their priorities.”

The 37-year-old has been following politics since 2004. She ran in the 2006 election as a Green candidate and was the press secretary of the former Green leader Elizabeth May in 2008. She also ran in a 2014 byelection in a Toronto riding for the party.

“I get probably most of my commentary and insight from Twitter because it’s just such a hub of knowledge sharing and hot takes on issues, which is important during campaigns,” she said.

Labchuk said she is already following the election campaign very closely since two of her top priorities, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, are on the agendas of almost all parties.

She said the virus that causes COVID-19 likely jumped from an animal species to humans, like many other infectious diseases, and the next pandemic could emerge on a factory farm in North America.

“We really need a conversation about not simply what we’re doing to get COVID under control, but what we’re going to do to prevent the next pandemic,” she said.

She said the wildfires in the West and the drought in the Prairies are two examples of the severe effects the climate crisis is having on Canadians.

“This is definitely already a matter of intense concern for Canadians.”

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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