Only a short walk from the University of Victoria, citizens were invited to speak with federal Green Leader Elizabeth May at Gordon Head Rec Centre, the third of eight town hall meetings scheduled this January. May provided a brief recap of the year in Parliament, highlighting her work with the Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose to give government additional discretion to regulate prescription drugs, before inviting citizens’ questions at the open mic.
Participants’ questions covered a range of topics, and May knew several of the speakers by name. One man pleaded for immigration intervention on behalf of a Syrian refugee while others asked about the shooting on Parliament Hill.
While few questions directly challenged May, she politely declined to field one question on vote splitting, stating,“I don’t want any voter in this room to feel uncomfortable as this is a non-partisan meeting.”
Despite the standing-room-only crowd, just a handful of people under 35 could be counted. One elderly man addressed the lack of young participants, sympathizing that young people had greater personal and financial demands in contrast with the older crowd.
May vowed to address voter apathy in the next leader’s debates, hinting she would seek to participate in this year’s debates after being excluded in 2011. According to Elections Canada, only 38.8 per cent of 18–24 year olds and 45.1 per cent of 25–34 year olds were estimated to have participated in the 2011 election.
UVic alumni Conway Carruthers, one of the few student participants, was impressed by the focused, non-partisan nature of the meeting and said he would likely vote Green in 2015. Carruthers was surprised by the absence of young voters, saying he thought a lack of advertising might be to blame. He only learned of the meeting through a flyer in the mail, but also suspected apathy. He asked a friend to go with him, but they declined, stating that they weren’t very politically inclined and “would most likely fall asleep.”
“The reasons to vote are compelling,” said May. “By not voting you’re not protesting against a bunch of politicians you don’t like—you’re doing exactly what the politicians you least like want.”
One woman shared how her 24-year-old son, despite being well-informed, doesn’t vote out of protest rather than indifference. None of her three children under 30 vote.
Justin Whitehead, UVic student and candidate for student government, echoed Carruther’s comments, saying many of his friends would simply ask him or other informed friends how to vote.
Official voter turnout was 61.1 per cent in 2011, well below the 73.8 per cent median of federal elections since 1945 and peak of 79.4 per cent in 1958. May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands riding had a 75.2 per cent turnout in 2011.
In an interview with the Martlet following the event, May said that she expected the 2015 federal election to result in a minority government. May emphasized bipartisanship, stating, “Enough elected Greens are going to force the kind of co-operation Canadians want.”