Kitchener-Waterloo

COVID recovery, climate change top election issues for youth, 1st-time voters in region

Teenagers and first-time voters may be new to the world of politics, but many who are engaged know exactly what they want from their elected officials.

CBC K-W spoke to teens about top election issues and why their voice matters

Students gathering at Wilfrid Laurier University on Monday. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Teenagers and first-time voters may be new to the world of politics, but many know exactly what they want from their elected officials.

Younger communities in Waterloo region are staying up to date with the federal election through their own research, social media and candidate debates.

CBC K-W spoke to several teens about their top election issues and why their voice matters.

1st-time voters

Many youth across the region, including Namrata Mishra, are gearing up to vote for the first time next Monday

The 18-year-old is a first-year student at the University of Waterloo.

"For me, the top election issue would be COVID recovery, because in that issue, there are so many sub issues like long-term care, health care, small businesses. The pandemic has intruded in almost every facet of our life. I think a lot of people would agree with the sentiment that COVID recovery is going to be possibly the deciding factor on which political party they vote for," said Mishra.

"I would know who I wanted to vote for because there are so many websites out there that in a simple, concise way lay out what each party believes on various issues."
Namrata Mishra is a first time voter in Waterloo Region. (Submitted by Namrata Mishra)

It's also Shria Siramshatty's first year at Wilfrid Laurier University and her first time voting.

"I hope that post-pandemic there could be an easy transition or a smooth transition to in-person [learning] again, especially with interactions between students. There's not much of that online. No one knows when the pandemic will go, but I hope the guidelines will be taken more strictly with certain students because — especially like party schools like Laurier is known to be one of them — that people could actually understand that there are people who are COVID conscious like myself."

Impacted students

Both students who are months away from turning 18 and international students are ineligible to vote this year. However, they say decisions made by elected officials still affect them and their priorities matter.

Jasmin Dhillon, 17, said one of her top priorities is ensuring First Nations communities have adequate resources. She's stumbled across several social media videos unveiling the realities of people living in some Indigenous communities.

"They'll be showing the tap water they have ... and it's not filtered, not clean, it's brown. It's like, how would it be like if Toronto had water like that? It would be fixed overnight."

Aanchal Mand, 17, said back to school is a big challenge. 

"Everything is still online. I think that was a bit of an issue. We're still coming. We're still learning. It's a new environment for us. And online, it's not the easiest resource for us to actually educate ourselves. It's actually way harder than we thought.

Yash Jain, a fourth year international student at Laurier, said climate change impacts everybody. 

"The most important issue that somebody should address ... is climate change ... like moving toward a more sustainable approach, like using a renewable energy or more sustainability providers."

Timi Adesoji-Atoyebi, a first-year student, said equality is a top issue.

"Growing up in school, they don't really teach you about the topics of racism … we should hear from different minority groups … racism has been prevailing in every part of history and then it keeps occurring right, which means something is not being done to curb racism. Also, trying to help students with reducing fees … reducing poverty, homelessness ... getting at-risk kids off the streets."

When asked why political powers should listen to youth voices, Adesoji-Atoyebi said: "We're the ones experiencing life right now. It affects us the most because we're the ones they're making the laws for, and they're making the laws from a different perspective. We're seeing from a different perspective of life because their idea of life is different from how we live our life now. So all the rules that are being made is from their perspective, from whenever they grew up. So they should listen to us because we are the ones growing up now. Our times are changing, right? So obviously the rules should change to."

Young voters share big priorities for 2021 election

1 year ago
Duration 5:07
More than 800,000 Canadians have turned 18 since the last federal election and some of those voters have big priorities including the environment, inequality and the overall economy.

High school students

High school students at Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School in Guelph are also chiming in. The school is among other schools that will be tuning into a city-wide candidates debate on Wednesday.

Owen Marks, 15, is moderating the debate. 

"I would just like to know, when the pandemic is over, how the economic recovery of the COVID spending will play out. Because, I totally agree with the money spent, the billions of dollars to relieve people around the country of COVID-19. But I'd also like to know how that will affect the economy later on and if it does affect it in a negative way, how that will be mitigated and corrected."

When asked why young people should get involved in political conversations, he said: "It's everyone's civic responsibility to vote, and I think it's great to have student leaders go out of their way to promote the idea of voting and understanding politics by getting involved in events like this so that when they are of age to vote, they feel incentive to do so and have the required knowledge to make the best informed decision for them."

Martina Gazzola, 16, is also a moderator.

"Personally, when I'm older, I would like to own a house to raise a family, so something that I'm really pushing for is affordable housing because I just think it's really important.," she said.

The event can be seen online here at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

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