With the transit referendum underway and ballots being mailed out until mid-May, I eagerly await the results. A successful referendum could see dramatic improvements in livability for the region, while a failed vote will see increasing congestion and emissions for several more years. Unfortunately, early polling doesn’t look good: a poll from early-March suggests that 55% of voters plan to vote No, while just 33% are in favour. For a region like Metro Vancouver that prides itself on livability, how can this be? Much of the referendum focus has shifted to Translink and their governance – the ‘No’ side has played this up with misleading arguments and distorted facts. After all, this referendum has nothing to do with Translink (which is actually an efficient and effective transportation authority); instead, it has to do with a proposed set of key infrastructure upgrades that are in the public interest and proposed by elected mayors. Despite the misinformation campaign, the anti-tax and anti-Translink rhetoric is an easy sell. But can the rhetoric translate into a failed referendum that we desperately need to succeed? Put another way, isn’t there a way for the referendum to pass – despite the misleading arguments brought forth by the No side? The answer to that question lies with students and, to a larger extent, millennials.
Metro Vancouver is home to approximately 300,000 post-secondary students. These students are the highest users of transit in the region, understand the need for transportation investments, will be the ones hoping to graduate into a strong regional economy, and will be the ones most impacted by decisions made today for the future. To be fair, a portion of those students are not eligible to vote in the referendum, but the point still stands: the transit referendum should be a slam dunk given the student population.
Unfortunately, students and millennials are an incredibly apathetic demographic. In the last federal election, Elections Canada estimated that only 37.4% of 18-24 year olds and 48.0% of 25-34 year olds voted. This is in stark contrast to the turnout rates of all other age groups, which averaged between 54 and 69% turnout. The commonly cited reasons for low turnout are tight schedules, belief that the vote won’t make a difference, and the perception that they have nothing to vote for.
Fortunately for millennials and students alike, the referendum addresses these commonly cited excuses. The referendum voting period is 2.5 months long – a voting period that can be fit into any schedule. Further, this is a standard vote that is not subject to the vote-squashing first past the post system. Lastly, every person has something to vote for – after all, the referendum will directly impact their livability, their economic prospects, their mobility, and even the severity of climate change.
If apathetic individuals can take the two minutes needed to vote in the referendum with the understanding that their vote does matter, it’s easy to cast a ballot, and that the outcome will directly impact them, this referendum should be an easy hurdle to overcome in the ongoing path to livability. After all, analysts suggest approximately 600,000 to 700,000 is what will be required for either side to win or defeat the referendum. With hundreds of thousands of post-secondary students in Metro Vancouver – all of which are likely to support the Yes vote – the referendum will be won or lost by their turnout. They can either show up and cast their ballots en masse, or do as they have done in political elections and sit on the sidelines with a muted voice.
I previously mentioned that I eagerly await the results of the referendum. Maybe now I will clarify why: It will serve as an example of either how millennials are willing to rise up and take an active role in their future, or really are an apathetic demographic that doesn’t care to contribute to the world they live on. The referendum will be a perfect experiment, as it does not have the same issues as political elections that many millennials cite as reasons for not voting. Let’s just hope that this time around they show up when it matters.
This article was originally posted by Sustainable Collective who has since joined forces with The Starfish Canada.