Transcript: Making sense of voter apathy
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Episode 4 Transcript: Making sense of voter apathy

June 23, 2022

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Umair (00:12):

Hello, and welcome to Gen Squeeze's Hard Truths podcast. If you're tuning into this podcast for the first time, then you won't know this, but regular listeners will likely have figured it out already. There's something amiss about what you're hearing. The voice of the Hard Truths podcast. Host is not supposed to sound like this, but not to worry. The regular cohost Angie Chan will be back soon. We're just adding some new cohosts and experimenting with formats so we can bring you more episodes each month. So sometimes you'll hear Angie at other times, it'll be me and perhaps there will be other people as well. But hold on, I haven't told you who I am have. I, my name is Umair Muhammad. I am the Knowledge to Action Lead at Gen Squeeze. I possess neither the thoughtfulness nor the charm that Angie has, or at least not to the same extent.

Umair (01:12):

I mean, I try to be thoughtful in any case, I can assure you that I have desirable qualities of my own, or maybe not. I guess we'll have to see for the time being let's get on with the show. In this episode, I will be speaking with Dr. Paul Kershaw and Andrea Long. Paul is a University of British Columbia policy professor and the founder of Gen Squeeze. And he's also Angie's regular cohost. Andrea is our Senior Director Of Research And Knowledge Mobilization. I'll be chatting with them about how to make sense of the voter apathy and disillusionment that was apparent in the recent Ontario provincial election. We'll also chat a bit about what Gen Squeeze is going to be up to now that the Ontario election is behind us. I'll see you on the other side of the musical transition. Hi Paul and Andrea. How are you both doing?

Paul (02:15):

Great. Thanks, Umair. How about you?

Umair (02:17):

I'm doing well. It's nice and warm here in Ottawa.

Andrea (02:21):

Well, we can't say the same for here outside Vancouver where it's rainy and cool.

Umair (02:25):

Oh, sorry to hear that, but I, I imagine this normal.

Paul (02:29):

No, no, no, no, no. It's no, it's, it's below average these days. We haven't quite, we haven't found sunshine quite sometime out west. So we're looking forward to some sort of sunshine coming.

Umair (02:39):

Well, I guess that kind of allows us to transition into our discussion for the day. Things have been politically overcast in Ontario if, if not, you know, weather wise. So we just had an election on June 2nd and it had the lowest voter turnout in the province's history. I think only about 43% of eligible voters showed up to vote. So how do we make sense of this level of voter apathy?

Paul (03:10):

I mean the personal side, I just find it very discouraging. So I'll think about it more at the organizational side. I think for a long time, I worry that we've evolved from the sex drugs in rock and roll of the sixties and seventies. When today's aging population was young, you know, these boomers, they were at the middle of the civil rights movements and gender equality movements and queer movements. And what have you. And it was a time when people, I think, you know, both saw politics as fun and important, but in the decades that have gone since I think is in that baby boom generation moved from young adults into middle adulthood and, and now wherever we are now, they, they socialize a group of kids not to think about politics in quite the same way they did. And often you know, we've kind of had more and more Canadians think that, you know, politics is some punchline of a joke rather than a really important process to respect.

Paul (04:03):

And I think that culturally, we, we're not valuing politics as you know, the way to solve these big problems that Gen Squeeze often talks about. And you can't solve the squeeze imposed by lower earnings, higher costs, less time in a deteriorated environment just by working harder, hard work, isn't pay off like it used to the only way to fix that is by changing the policies that shape the broader environment and the broader systems. And so politics really matters for those things, but we're more likely to be pessimistic and point to reasons to be angry with politicians rather than see that we need to be involved in making politics work. And that's how I interpret more than one or two people checking out and not even casting a vote in the election in our biggest province of the country.

Andrea (04:45):

Yeah, I agree with that. I think that's a really good point about how we increasingly view the political process as something that's both, not a source of respect and also something other than us, as opposed to something that we're all participating in and a part of, or at least all have the opportunity to participate in and be a part of. But I guess I'll say also from a Gen Squeeze standpoint and for our focus around generational fairness and what that's meant recently for younger folks in Ontario and across the country that, you know, like I can, I can understand the disillusionment that some younger folks will feel in the political process when they're not seeing governments or politicians prioritizing or adapting urgently, or as urgently as I think, as warranted by the circumstances to address the issues that affect them. So when you don't see yourself reflected in that you don't see your issues reflected in that it can be tempting to decide it's just a flawed process.

Andrea (05:42):

I can't participate in that kind of flawed process, but I think as Paul said, like, that's, I'm not sure that's the best conclusion to reach when it comes to understanding the political landscape, because you might choose not to participate, but that's not undermining the power of the institutions of governance in this country. So if you're not there, if you're not making your voice heard that just ensures there's no cost for politicians or political parties when they don't actually prioritize the issues that matter for younger folks and their lack of attention to those demographics. So, you know, ultimately I think that that disengagement or withdrawal from the political process, isn't actually achieving the outcome that maybe people are hoping it is by, you know, devaluing or not validating the political process itself.

Paul (06:28):

And can I just riff off Andrea more for a second,

Umair (06:31):

Of course,

Paul (06:33):

You know, in so far as our podcast is like Gen Squeeze presents Hard Truths. This is a moment of hard truth. I think to actually Ontario young people in this particular election, the parties were often talking about housing and while Gen Squeeze talks about a broad range of things beyond housing, we know that housing is at the, the epicenter of this generational tension. And, and I think you have to give the parties some credit, like they were talking about that theme a lot. So this was not a moment where generations of younger people could say, oh, this election is not talking about things that matter to me, it was talking to about the, you know, perhaps the thing that matters most to young people side by side with climate change. Now that actually wasn't talked about very much in the election. So I, I think that the hard truth is, you know, in this moment, parties had quite a lot to say about things that matter to younger people.

Paul (07:21):

So maybe another hard truth is like a group like Gen Squeeze, isn't doing a good enough job in advance. It's saying, wow, you know, we're not a get out the vote organization and we're not in the business of telling you which party to vote for, but we think we try to make it easier for people to cast a vote because we help them with information about what's strong and weak in the platforms that are put on offer. And what's different between what various party leaders are putting on offer when they're trying to woo people's votes. And, and, you know, this was our first time doing it in the Ontario elections. And maybe we can cut ourselves some slack, but I think that groups like Gen Squeeze and, and a range of other groups that are in the business of thinking democracy matters were clearly not making the case.

Andrea (08:05):

Yeah. And I guess maybe I'll just add one more thing to that comment to <laugh> who mayor, if we could not take too long on question number one, but you know, like, so we are talking about young folks, we pivoted immediately from apathy voter, apathy voter lack of turnout to, to younger demographics. And of course a less than one and two turnout means that there's a whole heck of a lot more than young people not voting. So I just wanted to draw that out as well. You know, we don't, we don't know the turnout per se by age, but you know, 43% means there's quite a large swath of Arians who aren't seeing it as a valuable use of their time and political muscle to show up at the ballot box.

Umair (08:45):

So there's a couple things in, in what you both said that I want to just, I guess, highlight the one thing you said Paul about, you know, politics as a punchline to a joke, you know, this is something that is definitely concerning and you see this all the time where even politicians will kind of use the word politics as if it's a bad word, you know, they'll say, oh, the other side is playing politics with this issue. And it's like, wait, that's, this is your job. Like, what do you mean you're playing politics? Like this is, these issues are contentious. They are political. So treat them as such, but that's kind of, I think the valence that the word politics has in our culture, which is unfortunate.

Paul (09:28):

So this idea that politics has become a bit of a dirty word. It's funny. And, you know in an earlier version of the podcast with Angie in our conversation with conversation with Angie, I went into that, that conversation intentionally thinking about using the language of democracy more than politics. And I think that democracy is something that'd be, yeah, we know democracy is good <laugh> and you can kind of in incentivize people to think about, oh yeah, this is like a mom and apple pie. They're like democracy good. Like, but I have tended in the past to say, you know, we need to make politics work for all generation and politics response to those who organize and show up. And, and, and I think maybe I'm, I'm trying to invoke this idea of, you know, politics is us, you know, we get the politics we deserve, we get the politics that we make.

Paul (10:16):

And I guess just as Gen Squeeze says about, you know, the, the housing system, you know, that we sustain this relentless increase in hot and rising home prices. Cause many everyday households are entangled or incentivized to bank on rising home prices, or, you know, we're, I implicated in, in, you know, creating climate change because we're, you know, we're sometimes resisting paying for the pollution that we create and leaving the, the cost for those who follows. And I guess on the democracy side as well, I've been imagining that people to realize we get the politics we make and I, I get the hard truth is no, we're not making the politics work well enough for us. And yes, you can be frustrated when politicians themselves help to erode a little bit the high esteem with which we should hold democracy and the practice of politics. And, and, you know, I've, I've been seeing even some leadership races of late where you have candidates who are calling in to question the integrity of their counterparts, vying for office.

Paul (11:14):

When in fact, you know, any of these folks who are vying for office, like generally speaking, this leadership is hard. These people are up before they're working before breakfast and meetings, and they are working after dinner and meetings and all in between. And they don't get remunerated a ton by comparison with lots of part of the private sector. And they make a lot of sacrifices of their time. And the moment you put your, your hat into a race, you become the subject of a lot of mean-spirited comments online. Heck even if you're doing a group like Gen Squeeze, you're gonna be likely to get a range of, you know, nasty comments in, in response. And so darn it. We do need democracy to work if we're gonna fix this broken generational system. And so politics can't be the punchline of a joke. It has to be a process to respect, but if we do better by talking about democracy, I'm all in.

Umair (12:06):

Well, so the other thing that I, that caught my attention was when Andrea said that she sort of understands in part why voters are apathetic. And I mean, I certainly feel that. So I, I live in Ottawa center, which is probably one of the most engaged ridings in the country and certainly in the province, you know, there's good reason for that. This writing also contains parliament hill. So, you know, you can imagine why people would be more engaged. There was definitely a better turnout here than in many, most of the other writings in the province. But despite that, I would say even here, there wasn't that much talk about the election as far as I could tell. And if I could try to explain part of what, where the low voter turnout comes from. I think it's partly because the news was dominated by other sorts of events, right? I mean, there's the war in Ukraine. That's been in the headlines. And then right before the election, you had the mass shooting in yal de Texas. So I have a sense that those things contributed to people, not really even knowing that there was an election or if they knew they, they weren't that engaged in it,

Paul (13:19):

But Umair, I don't wanna lower the bar for Canadian citizenship to such an extent that we can't expect people to walk and chew gum at the same time. Like we can be worried that there is a war in Ukraine. We should be desperately concerned about that and concerned about like, okay, well, what are we doing to make sure, you know, our province is working as well as it possibly can for all generat. Like I think we can think those two things we can be like, oh my gosh, there's this mass shooting going on in yet another city, well, they happen to be the city of the day, but they're having mass shootings on a more than daily basis in the states. And they're like, okay, what are we doing in our political culture to ensure that we don't run into the same problems here? And we can even say we had fatigue coming at a C for a couple of years of struggling with the pandemic, but in all of these instances, like more than ever coming outta the pandemic, we should just see how much we had to do collectively together, whether it was delivering the Serb and you know, what maintained income supports for people or, or organizing these mass vaccination opportunities or shoring up a range of industries that were being harmed.

Paul (14:27):

Like those things happened through the world of politics. I don't know why coming outta the pandemic. We're not more oriented to the importance of a demo democracy that works well as compared to getting the lowest voter turnout that our largest province has ever seen. Like, no, I'm gonna actually, I'm gonna stick to it. And maybe I'm turning listeners off and we're gonna have like nobody involved in <inaudible> no, it's not good enough Canadian. It's not effing good enough full stop. And if we don't actually have that being said, if we don't actually have the premier Ontario saying it's not good enough, then I don't know, we need, we need political leaders to say we're clearly partly implicated. But damn it, Ontarians. Democracy's hard work. We got big problems. Let's solve them together.

Umair (15:14):

I, I agree. But I would just say, just in trying to sort of understand the phenomenon of low voter turnout in voter apathy and in this particular moment, I think we have lived through a difficult period with COVID it's been a dark time and then there's been, you know, the kind of news that is dominating the headlines has been dark as well. And so I think it leads people to want to disengage, right? Like it leads people to retreat into the, into themselves and sort of see the outside world as, as bleak. And so the challenge then for organizations like Gen Squeeze is to say, yes, it seems like things are bleak and in some ways they are, but how do we create opportunities to improve the world? And I think that we can also, we can see politics and, and moments like elections as, as means to try to improve the world. Mm-Hmm

Paul (16:13):

<Affirmative>, which is why Andrea worked so hard on our voters guide. Isn't it? Andrea

Andrea (16:18):

<Laugh> exactly. Yeah. I think, I think you're both right. In many ways, of course, I agree. We can't lower the bar. Doesn't seem too much to ask on a provincial basis for folks to show up at a minimum once every four years to cast a ballot, that seems like a pretty low bar. But at the same time, I understand where you're coming from Umair. And do you think that it's been a time where despite the enormous public response and the rural governments have played, whether you're someone who feels man mask mandates and vaccine mandates and things like that have been a positive force or a negative force government has played a big role in shaping our response to the pandemic. And I think, I hope that everyone can at least agree that what we've done collectively in terms of income supports delivered to businesses and individuals was a pretty monumental accomplishment over a reasonably short period and high pressure environment to say like, Hey, we owe each other something in this circumstance, but I mean, in terms of how do we move out of that period of bleakness?

Andrea (17:28):

Like I think that's, I think it's a big part of how Gen Squeeze understands its work is that we don't stop with trying to articulate the problems the challenges that we're facing. We do try and, well, we don't just try, we do articulate the solutions as well, and that's a really deliberate choice on our part as an organization to say like, Hey, it's, you know, it can often be a lot easier to complain about the problems and point out where everything is going wrong. It could be a lot more difficult, a lot harder to stuff into 280 characters than a Twitter post or you know, a photo for Instagram to say, here's what we can do about it, because what we can do about it, isn't just a single thing. It's usually multiple sets of things. And, you know, understanding those things requires some even more level of engagement beyond showing up once every four years to vote.

Andrea (18:17):

But I think we take that responsibility seriously in our solutions frameworks, which you can find on gen, but also as you said, Paul, in our voters guide where, you know, we're using those solution frameworks as the basis for looking at what are political party saying and how close will the commitments that they're making bring us towards those solutions. So I think we have, like, I think, I think it's a really important what we're doing to offer those resources to people and key moments like elections and, you know, empower them. Hopefully obviously we need to do more given the turnout in this last election but empower them to be able to, you know, we're not picking the winner for them, but so they feel empowered to pick the winner themselves based on their own values and the issues that matter to them.

Umair (19:00):

Yeah. And I think, I, I I'd want to ask you both about the voters' guide that we put out prior to the election in a bit, but I kind of want to talk a bit more about what we were already sort of talking about, but in a slightly different direction. So Andrea, you already mentioned that we don't have data on the different age groups that came out to vote in the Ontario election and that's because on elections, Ontario actually doesn't keep track of age related voting data.

Paul (19:27):

They should change that.

Umair (19:28):

<Laugh> I, I think they should. Yeah. but you know, despite that, I think it's probably safe to say that young people turned out in significantly lower numbers than older voters. That, that seems to be generally the case. And so at, at gen squeeze, we, we like to say that politics responds to those who organize and show up. Right. And so then my question would be if voters in general and young people in particular, aren't showing up, what does that mean for our politics?

Paul (19:58):

Well, I, I literally have been in Queens park, the legislature in Victoria and the house of commons where politicians of multiple party stripes have observed the very reality to describe. And we know at the federal level that those under 45 are one third less likely to show up and cast a ballot on voting day at a federal election, by comparison, with those who are older. So the data are clear on that and then parties know that they have to design their platforms to be especially likely to attract the vote of those who are especially likely to cast a vote. And so that creates one of the systemic factors in the, in the, the world of politics that contributes to why Sean Speer, a previous guest in the Hard Truths podcast, described Canadian politics as a gerontocracy. You know, something that's oriented around you know, politics oriented around retirees because those who are in retirement or approaching retirement have historically been more likely to vote.

Paul (20:58):

And so we know that Gen Squeeze is in the business of trying to disrupt systems that aren't causing our democracy to work well for all generations, giving rise to policies that aren't investing as urgently in the wellbeing of, you know, young people from their earliest years into our final years. And we observe in the voters guide a range of policy issues that need to improve in order to make Canada work for all generations or make Ontario work for all generations. And so we try and showcase the degree to which parties are putting on offer ideas that will align with that evidence. But if they know that the voters to some, the, the voter turnout is kind of stacked against working for all generations, then that, you know, allows them to continue to design platforms that focus on the needs of an aging population. People we love it's critical, but we're stuck.

Paul (21:52):

We either need that older demographic to then say, "Hey, no, we we're gonna vote for platforms that work for our kids and grandchildren and us." That's one thing we could ask an aging population to do, and, or we've just got to get a younger demographic out more. So you've got Apathy is Boring, and you've got Samara. And you've got a range of, you know, get out the vote orgs that disproportionately work on campuses. We need those to be better, but worse than that, still now I've gone, gone from hopeful back to a bit negative. Like Gen Squeeze often says like, voting's like one thing. And then the work of democracy continues the next four years in between votes. But if we can't even get the voting part right. And I don't care who they vote for, but if we don't get people out, then getting people to do more in between elections seems even more daunting still.

Andrea (22:40):

Yeah. And maybe I'll just add to that. So one thing that struck me about your question Umair is what so Paul's already articulated well, what that means in terms of Gen Squeeze's approach to understanding the need for people to engage in, in political processes, because that is an important source of power for organizations like us that are, are then trying to bring those perspectives forward, but also for individuals themselves who are taking part. But what I wanted to flag was that I think what's interesting is that, you know, there's been some recent research done around what younger generations, how they view institutions in our society. So institutions, including things like governments or political parties, other things as, too like media and big corporations, but for our purposes, let's talk about the governments and political parties. And that data suggests that, you know, whereas older generations like the baby boom generation embraced institutions, and really saw them as bodies that enabled them to have a good and comfortable life.

Andrea (23:46):

Younger generations tend to see institutions more as hindrances to their development. They see them as bodies that aren't going to help improve their situation, because they're too hierarchical. They're, you know, so often sources of inequality and discrimination. So, you know, when you begin from, you know, a place where you, you have that pessimism about the institutions that are core to our democracy, you know, becomes all the more difficult to, to make a case and to, to suggest that you can achieve change by working within those institutions. And I think that's, I think that's a real, it's a certainly concern for organizations like Gen Squeeze who are trying to do that exact thing, but it's also concern more, more generally for Canada when, you know, you're having people actually not view our political process as something that is likely to produce positive outcomes for them.

Andrea (24:37):

So like that all being said, I guess I'd like to circle back to the reason why I think that's still not an adequate response. Just like I think not voting is an inadequate response and not not viewing, not sort of understanding where the sources of power are in our political process. I think opting out of institutions is also problematic because something Paul said earlier, it's not like we can fix these problems as individuals. We can't all adapt and work harder or make better choices or try and be as environmentally sustainable as possible. Like those are all good things that we can do, but it's not gonna be enough unless we take collective action at the level of population. And I think for better or for worse we need our institutions to enable that kind of action. I don't know. I would love to hear from folks if they think there's another option. It'd be interesting to have a conversation about where folks who have that skepticism about institutions think that they can make that kind of change, but I'm not ready to give up yet on our governments, our political parties, those sorts of structures as change making bodies. And that's why I feel that it's really important that we still push for that. And we still try and raise expectations on folks to, to take part in those processes.

Umair (25:47):

So maybe we can sort of move on to talk about some of what Gen Squeeze has done in trying to engage people in the Ontario election. So in general, we, we tend to be quite busy around election time. I mean, I'm assuming right. I'm, I'm actually quite new to Gen Squeeze for listeners.

Paul (26:07):

We're busy at election time. You're right. And you saw, you saw how busy we can be.

Umair (26:11):

It was a good time to join just to see how, how everything goes when it's all hands on deck situation. So let's talk about that. So could you tell us about the kinds of content that Gen Squeeze was producing in the run up to the Ontario election and why?

Andrea (26:30):

Yeah, well, so we already I already touched on the voters guide. But I'll talk a little bit more about that. So that's our centerpiece of our election related work. So we produce voters guides that are effectively, they are evidence based nonpartisan analyses of party platforms focusing on the four issues around generational fairness that Gen Squeeze is particularly interested in. So that's affordable housing. That's being able to afford to start a family. If you want to climate change and something we call budgeting fairly for all generations. We take a look at the platforms we're using our solution frameworks that I mentioned before, which are multi-pronged. We have, you know, anywhere between sort of 10 and, and 25 criteria and these platforms sorry, in these frameworks and we're looking at the platforms and we're saying, okay, on each one of these criteria, what are the parties doing? Are they doing enough? Are they doing the right things sometimes, are they doing the wrong things? Sometimes the actually parties are moving us further away from the goals that we have rather than closer towards them. So we do all of that analysis which is pages and pages and hours and hours of work using the party platforms and the party costings that they develop to say like, where are they? Are they, what, which promises are they really putting the dollars behind...

Paul (27:51):

They develop? But they only put out like quite a long ways into the election. Yes...

Andrea (27:55):

Yes. So it's a bit of a frantic...

Andrea (27:58):

A bit of a frantic rush there to try and like synthesize all that. Gen Squeeze is very strongly committed to being evidence based. So we're not prejudging the parties. We're not, you know, we're not anticipating, we're not wanting to push for a certain party to win. We're really basing it on what are they saying they're doing. And then we put out our, our platform, a analysis, each issue is supported by a score curve that shows how parties how well parties are doing in terms of achieving the goals on that issue. And we put that out into the world and and with the goal of hoping that it reaches as wide an audience as possible and, and will inform folks when they're thinking about what decision to make in the ballot box. So support that, of course, we're doing a range of social media, we do some public events, that sort of thing. We could certainly talk more about some of our issues around the new legislation in Ontario with regard to election advertising and what that meant for a group like Gen Squeeze in terms of this election process. But for the time being, maybe I'll just stop there, Paul and let you jump in on other election things.

Paul (28:58):

Yeah. I, I think you're, so here is great. And I guess thinking about where it evolved out of Gen Squeeze's work at first, it came about because we heard many people, especially younger demographics saying, well, I don't know who to vote for. Like, I don't know, what's the difference between the recommendations are they saying, are they speaking to things that matter to me, I'm, I'm, I'm finding it challenging to just make sense of what they're saying and why it's important. So when we first created our voters guide, we called it the swamp light long before now former president Trump started talking about draining the swamp. We were like, oh, no, like there's all these murky problems. It's like clear as mud is what we are thinking. And we'll like, bring our swamp light in and help people see, like what's a meaningful promise.

Paul (29:40):

What isn't, they're promising a million dollars. Is that a lot do you need a billion dollars to actually fix this problem? And so I'm, I'm proud of the idea that we were trying to rejuvenate democracy with our voters guide because people were indicating that a lack of information or the ability to make sense of platforms was a barrier to voting. So we're like, okay, we'll work our tails off. Once the platform information becomes available to help people discern what's being said in these platforms and how it aligns with a range of academic and other kinds of evidence about what we need to do in this society fix big problems like housing and family and affordability and climate change. And so that is one of the primary reasons we do it. And then when I see that, oh, fewer than one and two people showed up in Ontario to vote.

Paul (30:23):

You're like, I guess we didn't get this, you know, this information into enough, people's hands to help them, you know, to help them make meaning and to help them see the differences between the parties and then know that voting was going to be important. And we can come back to, to some degree how the third party election advertising laws got in the way. But the other reason why we do the platforms now is because we've actually started to socialize political parties, to know that we're gonna do the platform lyses and this has become actually a source of Gen Squeeze influence in our democracy because many times political parties don't really care what Gen Squeeze has to say, unless it's in their interest or what have you. And so they can tune us out. But during an election, Gen Squeeze has the power to actually attract a range of media around our analyses of what's strong and weaken the platforms.

Paul (31:12):

And in those moments in those days before an election political parties are worried about whether or not their platforms are being viewed as strong or weak. And so I now know that parties are reaching out to us to try and get a sense of like, how can they score better in our platform, in the light of the evidence being produced in the academy. And that then becomes a way that we start conversations and have some influence over the platforms that parties are putting an offer in the future. And I think that that's a key moment of how Gen Squeeze, when we say, you know, we've got our constituencies back, you know, hop on board, we've got your back. Well, one way we've got your backs, like we're shaping platforms in the future by showcasing during an election what's strong and weak now, and parties in the future will want to be viewed as being strong. And I think that's a key part of our theory of change and how we deliver our work on behalf of our constituency.

Umair (32:01):

All right. So since you both alluded to this maybe we can talk a bit about it. So in, in the wake of the Ontario election, you both penned an op-ed about the province's so called third party advertising rules. And you, and you said in that op-ed that these rules, they suppress legitimate political dialogue and contribute potentially to voter apathy. So could you talk about what these rules are and, and why are they a problem?

Paul (32:28):

So Ontario's not the first place to have a legislation that talks about the role of advertising, especially large amounts of money buying advertising in democracy. You know, BC does it, the feds, lots, lots of places do that. And, and in Canada, we, we know why it would be important to do that because we can see in the, in the United States, just how their rules around often unlimited amounts of investment in election advertising can do harm to to democracy. When those, with more money can be shaping debate more than those with less money, it's just free speech. Paul, it's just exactly, it's free speech. And if you have more money, you can have more to say money isn't speech. But so, you know, I am, I am absolutely boarded that there should be regulations that try and sort of level that playing field during an election.

Paul (33:17):

And one way you do that is that you allow people to, you know, to say, Hey, if I'm gonna advertise my view during election, you know, I need to register and you need to know, and there can be limits on how much I can spend. What's interesting about election advertising in Canada is that you might think, Hey, go vote for candidate X. Okay. That's, that's a, that's an ad. That's very political in mind. And so Gen Squeeze is never gonna do that. But Gen Squeeze is gonna say, Hey, you should really think about housing policy when you vote or childcare policy or climate change policy, or the level of deficit that parties are proposing, et cetera. And the moment we say things about those issues, because they're affiliated with what parties are associated with that becomes viewed as election advertising. So that becomes what they call third party issue based election advertising.

Paul (34:08):

And if you're gonna even say those things, you once again, need to register, which is fine. Gen Squeeze has registered in BC and in federal elections as well. And if, when we do other provincial elections in the future, we'll be delighted to register. But what was so vexing in the Ontario case is we couldn't register. We were legally not allowed to register even after we went to a lawyer to help us think like, how do we get around this? Because we couldn't show precisely the money that we had raised for advertising during the election in Ontario. And, and that's cuz gen squeeze, we don't set ourselves up to be like an advertising body. We're, you know, we're based at the academy at UBC and have our networks across the country with citizens who are bringing our evidence to decision makers and so on. And what we do is we go and advertise, you know, we go and do the analyses and they're like, boom, what pot of money do we have lying around where we could put some 5,000 bucks or so into like boosting some boosting awareness that we just produced, this voters guide.

Paul (35:05):

And we, you know, we just spend all this time as Andrea described and we want as many eyes on it as we possibly can get. And so we have, you know, we don't have an advertising budget per se, with five, or I think in the last federal election, we got up to a little over $9,000. That was a big reach for us. But in Ontario, we literally couldn't even spend that $5,000, that $9,000, because we were forbidden from registering. And I think given that fewer than one and two people showed up to vote and like my gosh, Gen Squeeze wouldn't say, go vote for this party or that party. In fact, our platform analysis on housing had one party leading on family policy had different party leading on climate change had a different party leading still. We clearly were not picking a party. And yet the Ontario legislation prevented our being able to offer this, this insight into the strengths and weaknesses and platforms. And to the degree that a lack of clarity about what is strong and weakened platforms may dissuade some people from going to the ballot box then wow, limiting gen squeeze, trying to be a partial antidote to that is a barrier to trying to rejuvenate democracy. And that's why Andrea and I penned the oped to which you were referring.

Andrea (36:09):

Yeah, I think that's a, that's a really good summary of where we're coming from and what the source of our concern was. Maybe I'll just note that this legislation that was adopted last June, I think it was in Ontario. It was barely controversial at the time. In fact, the, the way it was able to be brought to force was by applying a little use section of the charter of rights and freedoms to say that the Ontario government could choose to implement this legislation, not withstanding of its impacts on other charter right issues. So a small organization like Gen Squeeze, all we can do is sort of be on the sidelines and say, Hey, have you thought about what the risks are here? Have you thought about what this means for our democratic debate and what we're able to put in front of people as they're making their choices and maybe just encouraging them to make the choice to show up at all. But we certainly don't have the capacity to take on a broader challenge of that legislation or to, you know, raise questions on a legal basis about it. Even though I think there are reasons why one might think that's the direction to go

Paul (37:15):

Yeah. At Gen Squeeze, we often try and do more than we actually have person power to do. And we'll probably draw the limit on this one that no, we won't go and pursue this issue further in terms of this kind of legislative change. But I mean, if there are groups or individuals out there with deep pockets who are looking for an interesting test case for the legislation Ontario and how it's doing harm harm to democracy, actually I think Gen Squeeze would be a lovely example of like how it's limiting really what I think would otherwise be legitimate practice. So ring us up. You might be able to convince us that we could be the front face of a well sponsored, you know, piece of litigation.

Umair (37:47):

Yeah. I mean, Andrea, you make a good point. I mean, I, that when that legislation was first introduced and passed, it was very controversial. And partly because of the invocation of the not withstanding clause, which I guess always is controversial whenever it's invoked. But also because of what the legislation itself was. And I found it a little bit strange that during the election and, and after it, there wasn't really much comment on it except for the oped that you wrote as far as I could tell

Andrea (38:18):

Mm-Hmm <affirmative>. Yeah, that's true. I think we were struck by that as well, which was also motivation to get the oped out there and certainly appreciate the national observer picking it up and, and running it to with us. I mean, maybe I'll just note this stretches beyond the Ontario election, but I, I think it does point to a broader risk of these sorts of requirements at, at other jurisdictions as well, like at the federal level or at other provinces that they certainly they've contributed to a bit of a chill effect on organizations participating in democratic dialogue during elections, I think because partly they're worried about what they can say and what they can't say. And just needing to, you know, have a nuanced understanding of that because of course, you know, it's legislation, it's not exactly written in an accessible, accessible way.

Andrea (39:11):

And also because then just of the costs and work involved, you know, like you don't have to pay to register, but there's certainly a lot of reporting auditing, you know, sort of administrative requirements that go along with being able to adequately track your expenses and meeting those expectations. And, you know, some of that is certainly reasonable. Like, as Paul said, nobody's suggesting we shouldn't regulate election advertising. We don't, we don't want to have, I don't think what, what our neighbors to the south have in terms of their, their sort of wild west wild south, I don't know of of election rules, but I think our net is arguably looking like it's being cast a little too broadly and there's not enough discussion about what does that mean? Like what's the, what's the price we're paying in in terms of issues like voter turnout, but also just like voter education and engagement.

Paul (39:59):

I think the chill is really important. And sometimes I kind of giggle at the fact that it's Gen Squeeze, that's putting out one of the very few, sometimes the only analysis of climate change policy during elections, because Gen Squeeze, like we're a solid voice. And with lots of evidence on the importance of pricing pollution and increasing accountability for our meeting, our, our targets in terms of carbon reduction, emission, carbon emission is reductions. But there are many other, you know, well established groups on climate change that have a stronger presence on this issue during all periods of time, except the election, and then feel for a range of often legislative reasons that they need to go quiet, not only to the degree that they're feeling nervous about, can they do a platform analysis, but that can they even share hours? And the same goes, you know, in the housing situation as well, or in the family, people get nervous during an election, or like they allow to share information that shows differences between parties, because some view that might be potentially partisan.

Paul (41:01):

I think it's partisan. When you say, you know, regardless of what the evidence is, go vote for this party. But I think if you're saying, Hey, on housing, here's the strengths and weaknesses between what the parties are saying and proposing and what the evidence suggests. And if Gen Squeeze, we're also clear about the values that drive us, you know, judgements about whether a platform is strong. We partly partly some, what values are you bringing? And our, our solutions platforms, you know, we valued on family policy. We value like choices for families and equality between women and men, and we value time at home. So those values are driving how we go and analyze a platform. And then we showcase how the evidence aligns and intersects with those values. I don't think that's partisan, that's just helping people make sense of what's weak and strong about platforms, but something is going a, a miss in the way in which a range of legislation that's designed to protect our democracy is causing a chill for not for profit and charitable organizations from leading at moments when people are especially likely to be paying attention.

Umair (41:59):

All right. So we've talked a bunch about the Ontario election. In fact, that's the only thing we've talked about. So maybe let's transition away from it because the election is behind us and what's done is done. And Gen Squeeze certainly has lots to do and, you know, voters and, and, and people, citizens in, in Ontario and the country more broadly have lots to do. So could we talk a bit about what Gen Squeeze is going to be up to in the next couple of months now that the, the very busy period of, of the election is behind us?

Andrea (42:33):

Well yeah, I guess there's so much to say on that question. It's hard to pick out the things to feature, but maybe I'll start with just a little perhaps peak behind the curtain at gen squeeze, because, you know, it's always interesting to know how work gets done and who's in playing in our sandbox. So Umair, you mentioned that you're fairly new to Gen Squeeze and we're super excited to have you on board and we've expanded our Gen Squeeze team in other ways in the last short while too. So I think it's actually exciting to say we're in a stage of like reflecting on the organization we've been around for about 10 years now. We're kind of, kind of around our 10 year anniversary. And, you know, between that and the expansion of the team, it's really given us pause to, or maybe opportunity to give some real thought to like, what have we accomplished and where are we heading next?

Andrea (43:25):

And what's, what's the plan. So I think we have sort of lots coming on the horizon for that. And we certainly will want to engage our, our network members and others who are engaged with us in, in that work and that thinking and share, share that with them and hopefully get some some input from, from all of you as well. So I'll just point to that, but you know, other than that, there's lots of other really specific concrete things on the horizon. I will just start by saying that, yeah, the election is behind us, no doubt, but for gen squeezed, you know, the election related work or work around government budgets, it's never just a point in time. There's a frenzy frenzied point in time where we produce materials. But, you know, we really sustain that work throughout the year because we recognize that as governments go through the election, as sorry, parties go through the election process, governments get elected, then they have their budgeting process.

Andrea (44:20):

And that's where the rubber hits the road in terms of who gets, what money, what issues get what money. And that's a key place where we engage and you need to engage over the whole year, cuz although budgets drop on a particular day the process for developing them and for determining priorities and, and who's gonna get what is, is months and years long. So that's always a part of what we do. And I think it's important that folks know that when we're doing all that work around voter guides and budget analysis, it's not, it's not just for the one, one day that the product emerges it's it really drives our, our thinking and our goals across across the year. So maybe I'll stop there Paul and let you jump in on some other things that you'd like to highlight.

Paul (45:02):

I would say riffing off your observation that we shape, we aim to go and comment on platforms so that we can shape those platforms in the present and into the future. And we shape platforms because we wanna shape the budgets that are put on offer by the party that wins election. And we wanna shape budgets, because budgets make...Budgets determine whether or not $10aDay is gonna be the maximum fee or the average fee for childcare. Budgets determine whether or not we are going to have as a goal in society that we want home prices to stall so that earnings can catch up. Budgets are what, you know, determine are we gonna continue to, you know, subsidize pollution and fossil fuel subsidies? Or are we gonna reallocate those to things that like draw down carbon from the atmosphere and give us incentives to move towards green energy? And budgets, you know, determine, you know, are we gonna ask people today to pay for the benefits they want to use both in retirement and throughout their lives?

Paul (45:55):

Are we gonna leave the bills for younger generations and, and, and future Canadians budgets do all of these things. So we analyze platforms to shape budgets and shape budgets to solve the big problem, squeezing younger Canadians and undermining the legacy that our aging parents and grandparents so desperately want to leave in a proud way for their kids and grandchildren. And that work often is noticeable during an election and especially noticeable at budget when a budget's announced and there's a media frenzy, but the work is ongoing all year long. And so we've moved from taking the analysis of the Ontario platforms to now we're sharing them with all the people who are newly elected so that they can see what we think we're strong and weak. And that creates some opportunities to meet with those people and talk about where to make improvements now for the party that just won, you know, quote a landslide, victory.

Paul (46:44):

They may not care in the short term about what some of our suggestions are to improve parties that didn't win. You know, they might like, oh, how do we score better in the future? And how can we though more generally, you know, how can we go to premier forward right now and say, look, there are opportunities for you to, you know, do X, Y, and Z things you to improve the housing affordability that you talk so much about. You've got some ideas, how can we wrap around some other ideas around it? And how can we have you pledge to like budgeting fairly for all generations that's work that we wanna do in Ontario. We take that federally. We take it across the country.

Umair (47:25):

That's our show. Everybody though in closing, I do wanna highlight a couple of things we felt we missed when chatting about the low voter turnout in Ontario. The first of these is the impact of the first pass, the post system. This is a system that results in elections, not leading to particularly representative outcomes. And depending on the riding you live in, there are no doubt. People who feel that their votes don't really make any difference. So why bother showing up? This is a problem that deserves to be taken seriously and electoral reform really needs to come back on the political agenda in this country. There are a number of organizations pushing for exactly that we'd like to shout out, Unlock Democracy, an organization fighting for democratic reform and proportional government. Another issue that we fail to highlight is the toxicity that increasingly company's elections and political debates, especially as more and more political discussion moves to the digital realm, toxic discourse can certainly be discouraging to witness and can put people off from wanting to engage with elections.

Umair (48:41):

We'd like to shout out the Samara Center For Democracy, for the work they do in tracking online toxicity and highlighting how toxic political debate can stand in the way of civic, engagement and participation. So those are the major things that we thought we missed, but we'd like to hear from you, were there other gaps in our discussion that you noticed were there positions we took that you would have approached in a slightly different manner or perhaps disagreed with completely let us know by writing to info [at] gen If you liked what you heard in this episode, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast. And perhaps also consider giving us a shout out on social media. We're gonna try and publish content more regularly than we've been doing so far. The next episode, which we aim to release next week will feature a discussion about rejuvenating democracy. I'll actually mentioned it briefly during this episode, it's gonna be a good one. So be on the lookout for it. Thanks again for tuning in. We'll see you soon.


Making sense of voter apathy
Transcript: Making sense of voter apathy
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Hard Truths