Youngest lineup of political leaders in Canadian history set to fight for youth vote

For perhaps the first time in Canadian electoral history, the youth vote could be hotly contested in 2019 — with just the leaders in place to fight over it.

Trudeau, Scheer and Singh will average 43 years of age in 2019's federal election

In 2019, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, right, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, left, will make up the youngest slate of major party leaders in Canada's electoral history. (Canadian Press)

The stage is now set for the 2019 federal election and the cast is looking a little more fresh-faced than usual. In fact, Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh make up the youngest trio of major party leaders vying to be prime minister in Canada's history.

On Sunday, the New Democrats chose Singh as their new leader, filling the last slot in the lineup for the next federal election. The Conservatives chose Scheer and the Bloc Québécois acclaimed Martine Ouellet earlier in the year.

When the next vote rolls around on Oct. 21, 2019, Trudeau will be the oldest of the three major national party leaders at 47 years of age. Both Singh and Scheer will be 40, with the Conservative leader being the youngest by four months. 

That puts their average age at 43 years — the lowest in the history of Canada's elections by a significant margin.

The previous low was in 1979, when Pierre Trudeau (59), Joe Clark (40) and Ed Broadbent (43) had an average age of 47.6 years. Before the emergence of the CCF, the forerunner of the NDP, Mackenzie King and Arthur Meighen had an average age of 47.3 years in 1921.

In only five of the past 42 elections has the average age of the major party leaders been less than 50 years.

Singh youngest NDP chief

Singh is the youngest leader the New Democrats have had, while only Clark in 1979 and Jean Charest in 1997 were younger Conservative leaders than Scheer will be in 2019.

Trudeau was the youngest leader the Liberals ever had in 2015 (with the exception of Edward Blake, who was 39 in 1872 when he played the role of the party's unofficial leader). He's still on the young side — only King in the 1921 election was younger than Trudeau will be in 2019.

Party members appear to value youthful vitality. Trudeau was the youngest candidate in the running for the party's top job in 2013, as was Scheer in the Conservatives' May vote. Singh wasn't the youngest option on the ballot in the NDP race — Niki Ashton is three years his junior — but he is at least a decade younger than his two other rivals, Charlie Angus and Guy Caron.

There has been a trend toward younger leaders for some time. In every election since 1968, the three major party leaders have had an average age under 60. Between 1935 and 1965, the leaders were always on average above that age.

The youth vote

The significance of this youth movement goes beyond historical trivia. Younger voters, long neglected by political parties, came out in big numbers in 2015 — and represent a growing cohort.

About half of the electorate in 2015 was between the ages of 25 and 54. Elections Canada figures compiled by Abacus Data show millennials (those born since 1980) and generation Xers (those born between 1964-79) will represent two-thirds of the electorate in 2019, with millennials forming the largest single voting bloc.

They were an important one for the Liberals in 2015. A majority of young voters tramped to the polls and about 44 per cent of them cast their ballot for Trudeau's party. Both the Conservatives and New Democrats lost about 10 points in a voting group they split in 2011.

With younger leaders at the helm of their parties, the Conservatives and NDP might be able to claw back some of those voters from the Liberals. For perhaps the first time in Canadian electoral history, the youth vote could be hotly contested in 2019 — with just the leaders in place to fight over it.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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