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COMMENTARY: Young Quebecers more engaged in politics than we think

Ipsos senior account manager Mitra Thompson says like everywhere else, Quebec has a problem with persuading its young people to vote. Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

For Quebec’s would-be premiers, the finish line is in sight.

The days of knocking on doors, shaking hands and kissing babies are drawing to a close. The TV debates are over. On Oct. 1, Quebecers will go to the polls to decide which party will form the next government.

At least, that’s the idea.

READ MORE: Desire for change could lead to minority CAQ government: Ipsos poll

Like everywhere else, Quebec has a problem with persuading its young people to vote. According to Élections Québec, only 58 per cent of Quebecers aged 18-34 voted in the 2014 provincial elections, down from 65 per cent in 2012 (the only year in recent memory where participation went up).

Contrast that with a 71 per cent participation rate among the overall population. There is a good deal of hand-wringing about stats like this at election time, and despite a flurry of initiatives by Élections Québec and others to spur the youth vote, these concerns have been just as prevalent during the current campaign.

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So what’s going on? Is Quebec’s newest generation of voters simply responding to the province’s political environment with a collective shrug emoji?

Pas tellement.

WATCH: A new poll shows it’s a close race before voters head to the polls on Monday

Click to play video 'CAQ pulling ahead at the end of Quebec campaign trail: poll' CAQ pulling ahead at the end of Quebec campaign trail: poll
CAQ pulling ahead at the end of Quebec campaign trail: poll – Sep 28, 2018

There’s much to suggest that this generation is more politically engaged than we think. A new Ipsos study of Quebecers aged 18 to 25 found that a majority – two in three (65 per cent) – are interested in the ongoing campaign, with one in four who say they’re “very interested.”

It’s not that young people feel their issues aren’t taken seriously by politicians, either. Again, a majority of Quebec youth (59 per cent) feel political parties do pay attention to issues that are relevant to their generation — though four in 10 disagree, so there’s clearly work to be done.

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READ MORE: Quebec reaches highest percentage of female candidates in history, Elections Quebec says

This is a generation whose political awakening is more likely to have come from the 2012 carrés rouges student crisis than any other event, which past research has shown helped boost youth participation in that year’s election in Quebec.

It’s no coincidence that education dominates as an issue that could determine their vote, ahead of health, the environment or the economy. Leadership candidates have talked up their platform on education at all three debates, but so far, the conversation has focused more on pre-school than funding for post-secondary studies.

The real hurdle for young Quebecers who don’t intend to vote Oct. 1 is trust. Seven in 10 (71 per cent) say they won’t go to the ballot box because they don’t trust the political system, making this the most common reason for not voting, ahead of a lack of interest, lack of time, or finding the process too complicated.

It’s partly a reflection of how young Quebecers feel about the province. The corruption scandals of the past decade have left their mark on Generation Z: asked to choose a word that best describes Quebec today, corrupt is top of the list.

Anglo youth see a future in Quebec

Sept. 17’s historic English-language leaders’ debate — the first ever to be televised in Quebec — has renewed the discussion about the place of anglophones in Quebec society, and particularly with regards to the younger generation. The very first question from a member of the public, Montreal’s Adrienne Winrow, was about what can be done to equip and encourage anglo youth to find employment in Quebec.

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The sight of anglos leaving for Ontario is by now so familiar in Quebec that many have come to view it as a perennial phenomenon, with today’s anglo youth just as likely to jump ship to Toronto as generations gone by. Not so fast, says Ipsos, whose study also looks at differences by language of usage.

WATCH BELOW: ‘Highly engaged’ youth vote this Quebec election

Click to play video 'Quebec election: ‘Highly engaged’ youth vote' Quebec election: ‘Highly engaged’ youth vote
Quebec election: ‘Highly engaged’ youth vote – Sep 14, 2018

Two in three (65 per cent) English-speaking Quebecers aged 18 to 25 say they plan to stay and build a life in Quebec; less than 10 points behind the 74 per cent of French-speakers who say the same.

Some findings are not so surprising: English-speaking youth are significantly more likely to see themselves as Canadian (77 per cent) than Quebecer (10 per cent), and they are more likely than francophones to say Quebec should stay part of Canada — though this opinion is held by a significant majority of both language groups, and by 70 per cent of Quebec youth overall.

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While francophone youth show more concern about issues like health and the environment, anglo youth are more likely to see the economy and jobs as issues that could sway their vote.

READ MORE: Young Quebecers ‘highly engaged’ in provincial election: IPSOS poll

Yet a majority of English-speaking youth are choosing to stay and make their lives here regardless, and what’s more, they’re politically engaged and optimistic about what the future holds.

The study finds that young English-speaking Quebecers are more likely to:

  • See Quebec as unique, dynamic and happy
  • Be optimistic about Quebec’s future
  • Be confident about the future of French in Quebec
  • Be more politically involved (as members of advocacy groups or by participating in spontaneous movements)

With days to go before the election, English-speaking youth are more likely to have people around them encouraging them to vote, and are also more likely to say they’ll regret it if they don’t vote.

Though the conversation about its legacy continues to rage, that first televised English debate may just have galvanized a generation already eager to be heard.

Mitra Thompson is a senior account manager at Ipsos Quebec.