2023 Student Winner – Samir Baig
If we want young people to vote and get involved in the political process, the media has to start covering the issues that reflect their interests, and the politicians who will advocate for the policies they believe in.
I’m a member of the often joked-about Generation Z, and I didn’t really become interested in politics until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the benefits of being forced to be a full-time shut-in was having time to look into subjects that I’d only had a passing interest in before—one of those subjects being politics. I began researching and learning more about it, and I started to form a type of identity in terms of the policies and ideologies that I supported and believed in. It was a nice feeling, slowly unravelling a world I didn’t know too much about and gaining some kind of understanding of how it all worked. I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot, and I think it opened my eyes to a lot of the issues that I’d seen around me but wasn’t sure where they’d come from or why they were still happening in the present day.
That being said, I can say with 100 per cent certainty that I barely care about any election held in this country, federal or otherwise. I care just enough to go out and vote for the most left-leaning party I can find.
And I know that isn’t a feeling shared only by me. There’s plenty of data to show that youth across the country aren’t voting, and don’t seem too keen on doing it. I know examples of this in my own life; I have plenty of friends and family my age who only have a passing interest in politics and the politicians in our Parliament.
When I looked further into why young people aren’t voting, I found an article about this issue on the Elections Canada website. The article listed some reasons why young people weren’t voting based on their findings, which included that youth “are less interested in Canadian politics, feel less strongly that voting will make a difference, believe that the government does not care what they think, tend to see voting as a choice rather than a duty….” While I think there’s some merit to these points, I’d like to weigh in as someone who is an actual member of this demographic and can provide some insight that Elections Canada doesn’t have.
Now while that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch. When people from my generation look at the political landscape, we’re faced with two types of politicians: the ones who have a bad habit of over-promising and under-delivering (if they deliver at all), and the ones who want to limit basic human rights for their own gain. Not only that, but none of these politicians seems to understand us or want to advocate for policies that we believe in and want to see put into law. The major political parties routinely do things to benefit the rich, and make it increasingly difficult for young people like myself to establish ourselves in a society where finding meaningful work is harder and harder and the cost of doing pretty much anything is getting more expensive. It’s easy to think that these politicians don’t care about us at all, which is how I felt doing my research during the height of the pandemic.
One of the institutions that has had a major impact on this issue is the media. They have a significant amount of control over what we know about our country at large, and who the major players are in government. Whether we recognize it or not, we are greatly influenced by the media and what they do and don’t report on, which I think is a large part of my generation’s lack of interest in politics and our democracy.
Now it’s easy to point fingers and make these arguments, but it’s a much more productive and interesting conversation to think about what could be done to make young people more invested in politics and in the course of our country going forward.
I think that our media is making a big mistake in only covering traditional politicians that young people don’t care about. We are a large demographic, and our news media should be covering politicians and policies that reflect the things we care about, and showing us that there are people out there who are different, and who are fighting for the causes we believe in.
We want politicians who advocate for better environmental policies to fight climate change. We want politicians who see the LGBTQ2S+ community as human beings and will advocate for their safety and equality. We want politicians who advocate for progressive policies that make life more affordable and bring wealth back to the working class instead of being concentrated in the hands of the ultra-wealthy.
But the media doesn’t advocate for any of this—they just continue to push people who want to maintain the status quo and don’t want to institute any real change in our society. At the end of the day, this just makes people like myself even more disillusioned with the state of our democracy.
Instead of spending most of their coverage on the Liberals and Conservatives, why don’t media outlets start focusing on other groups that might align with our political interests? The biggest example would be the NDP, since a lot of their policies are popular among people my age. I imagine there would be a lot more interest in politics in my generation if we could see primetime coverage on a federal party advocating for ideas and policies that we actually care about.
Or, better yet, why not invest some time and money into covering grassroots movements and parties across the country that are fighting for causes we believe in on a smaller scale? Show us people like ourselves who are fighting for these causes right in our own backyards. I for one would love to hear about these groups, so I know which ones to join and help advance the policies the politicians in power don’t seem too keen on. Not only would it increase awareness of local politics, but it could serve as motivation for young people to actually be a part of the system and make the changes we want to see in our country.
My point is that there are plenty of people in politics who are championing causes my generation believes in and supports. But we don’t ever hear about them, because the media chooses not to cover them. If they did, I strongly believe we’d be a lot more active in politics.
Something I have spent a lot of time wondering about is this: The people who run the major Canadian media companies must already know all these things I’m writing about. There’s no way they haven’t already considered them. So why haven’t they done anything about it?
I think it has something to do with preserving the status quo. These companies exist under a capitalist organization of the economy, as we all do. Because of that, the most profitable course is the safest one, which means upholding the status quo. This flies right in the face of what my generation wants. We want change in a lot of areas that have been ignored for a long time or haven’t been brought to the forefront of public consciousness. But when all you want as a company is to make the largest amount of money possible, why risk taking controversial stances?
At the end of the day, what my generation wants is change, plain and simple. We want things to be radically different from the way they are now when it comes to the environment, social causes and many more areas of society, but all we’re shown by major media corporations is that change isn’t wanted. We don’t want to be a part of a system that perpetuates the status quo and prevents change from occurring.
For the people out there who think young people are just lazy and not interested in the direction our society goes (I know plenty in my family), they should think back to what happened in the U.S. during the 2022 midterm elections, which happened while I was writing this. It was widely thought that the Republican party would win both the House and the Senate.
And then what happened?
Young people came out in force and completely changed the direction of the midterms, much to the surprise of most people in the country. It should be noted that Gen Z was the reason why there were so many progressive candidates elected into positions of power, which I don’t think was by accident. And yet those candidates weren’t advertised or talked about much in the news media in the States.
Now what would happen if the media talked about candidates and policies like that in our country?
I think if we were properly informed about the people fighting for the causes we believe in, my generation could be mobilized in a way that has never been seen before.
So things should change here. The media should be a bit more open about what is covered, and reflect what young people actually care about. If media companies would take the time to listen to what we actually care about instead of presenting us with inaccurate caricatures of ourselves, they might find we’re a lot more interested in our future than they thought.