Young campaign volunteers defy perceived youth apathy

Late in 2013, University of Toronto student Emil Cohen attended a visit from Olivia Chow when she spoke to a university class.

“I thought she was really compassionate, and that she stood for all the right values,” Cohen said. “After she started to run for mayor, I couldn’t volunteer in the summer … but as soon as the school year started I joined up with the Students for Olivia Chow group.”

Cohen is one of about 100 volunteers with Students for Olivia Chow. The group features young people actively campaigning for candidates in the municipal election.

Based on research, however, young voters are more apathetic about the municipal election then they are involved. According to a report published by the City of Toronto following the 2010 municipal election, only 38.3 per cent of people aged 18-35 had an active interest in politics. Elections Canada reached a similar conclusion after the 2011 federal election, finding that roughly 40 per cent of voters aged 18-34 actually voted.

Nadine Tkatchevskaia is the volunteer co-ordinator for Coun. Kristin Wong-Tam’s re-election campaign. She is aware of that perceived apathy, but focuses on what benefits young people can bring to a campaign.

“Young people, particularly those in my generation, are often perceived as apathetic towards politics in general,” Tkatchevskaia said. “But the young people who volunteer with us … bring a lot of energy to the campaign.”

Cohen believes that young people excel at encouraging other young people to get out and vote.

“We’re most effective at talking to other young people and influencing their vote,” he said. “For example, if there were a few adults sitting at one of our booths we would be getting a lot less interaction.”

For her part, Olivia Chow believes politicians need to listen to the voices of young people in elections.

“We need more young people to come out and volunteer and vote,” Chow said. “If they come out and vote, we will have a better future for young people, better jobs and a better environment.”

Cohen knows exactly what he’ll be doing on municipal election day.

“I’ll be out pulling votes,” he said. “But I heard afterwards that Chow will be having a party or some sort of event downtown. So I want to be there to show support.”