Our team is partnering with local newspapers to spread word about Generation Squeeze in a 4-part series in the Burnaby NOW, Coquitlam NOW, Maple Ridge Times, and New Westminster Record. These cities are home to high concentrations of young people pushed out of Vancouver by skyrocketing costs of housing. Tight election races in the last provincial campaign mean they are ridings where the voices of young generations are especially likely to influence campaign results.
Canadian governments spend around $45,000 annually per retiree, and just $12,000 per citizen under age 45. This gap in spending explains why student debts are thousands of dollars higher than in the 1970s; why child care services cost more than university tuition; and why it’s no longer affordable for many parents to share 18 months at home with a new baby when it was common a generation ago for families to afford a parent at home for several years.
This generational spending gap exists in part because too few speak out against the consequences of lower incomes and higher costs of living for younger generations – something people are trying to change at gensqeeze.ca.
Finding our voices is important, especially in the run up to elections. We all know today’s young people vote less often than Canadians over age 45. Statistics Canada reports that around 50 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds showed up at the ballot box in the last federal election. By contrast, 60 per cent of 35-45 year olds voted, as did around 70 per cent of 45-55 year olds, and around 80 per cent of Canadians age 55-74.
Interestingly, citizens with young children are especially unlikely to vote. While parents may choose not to exercise their franchise, this choice also silences their kids in the political scene.
So long as younger Canadians are less likely to be counted at the polls, political parties have less reason to allocate tax dollars to programs that address the challenges facing younger people. The result? Tax dollars continue to be collected, but they are not used to narrow the gap in spending between retirees and younger generations.
Some younger Canadians suggest they don’t vote because they believe it won’t make a difference. As a political scientist, I know this isn’t true, as do the many people who sacrificed to earn the vote in Canada and abroad.
Looking ahead, BC hosts Canada’s next major election on May 14. Data show young people have a particular opportunity to make their vote count in the suburbs of Vancouver, where recent elections witnessed tight races. Consider Maple Ridge-Mission where 68 votes made the difference between the provincial Liberals and NDP in the last campaign. So did 274 votes in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.
The margin of victory in Burnaby Deer Lake was 512 votes; 548 votes in Burnaby North; and 698 in Burnaby Lougheed.
The same goes for Coquitlam-Maillardville, where 668 ballots determined winner and loser. And this year’s race is also bound to be close in Port Moody-Coquitlam where the NDP won the recent by-election, swinging the riding from a retiring Liberal cabinet minister who had held it for years.
Close election results reveal that adding just a few hundred votes to the tens of thousands who cast a ballot can make the difference between who wins and loses an election. Candidates are especially primed to listen carefully to their constituents in such situations, and may even stray from their party leader’s script if local residents press the matter.
The historically tight electoral races in these suburbs become especially interesting because of their demographics. They are now home to many under 45 who have been pushed out of Vancouver by its especially high housing prices.
This means that young people have numbers on their side in what we can anticipate will be tight election races in Burnaby, the Tri-cities, and Maple Ridge. If just a few hundred more of them go to the ballot box, they have every chance of deciding the result. That’s power. So Generations X & Y can count on their voices being heard if they get informed and show up.
Never before have the suburbs had such a chance to influence whether BC really becomes the best place on earth – at least from the perspective of younger generations starting their training, careers and families.
But if young people avoid the ballot box on May 14, British Columbia, and especially Metro Vancouver, will likely remain the least affordable place on the continent for younger generations.