Toronto Star

Can millennial­s carry Wynne?

- Tim Harper Tim Harper is a former Star reporter who is a current freelance columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @nutgraf1

How to harness a “youthquake?”

Whichever party can divine a way to do that in next year’s federal election will form government, according to some ground breaking data on millennial­s being released this week by Abacus Data.

For the first time, millennial­s will be the dominant voting block in a federal election in 2019. That’s also the case in this June’s Ontario election.

That’s 9.5 million voters, those who will be aged 19-39, when federal ballots are cast next year.

There are signs that political parties understand there’s a revolution underway, one that has the potential to turn Canadian politics on its head.

For years, or so the adage went, parties didn’t court the youth vote, because they didn’t go to the polls. Younger voters said they checked out of the process because politician­s had nothing for them. The dance continued. That circle is being broken, says David Coletto, the 36year-old Abacus CEO and author of the study, who says it has been most notable over the past three years at all levels of government.

He has been surveying 2,000 Canadian millennial­s twice a year to track their thoughts on current affairs, brands, government­s and ideas.

His findings could unlock political success for any party.

Millennial­s may believe the economy is doing well, but not necessaril­y believe it is doing well for them.

Many lack the protection­s older generation­s have taken for granted — only 55 per cent had access to drug insurance, 53 per cent had dental insurance, only 36 per cent had an RRSP and a mere 29 per cent had access to an employerpr­ovided pension plan.

Overwhelmi­ngly, the issue for this voting block is housing affordabil­ity. They see other generation­s sitting comfortabl­y in houses that have earned money for them while they are unable to break into the market themselves. They prefer government spending over balanced budgets (understood by Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne), don’t believe corporatio­ns pay their fair share of taxes, don’t believe income inequality has been properly addressed and are more comfortabl­e with big interventi­onist government.

They also want to see action on climate change, policies to lift people out of poverty and a more open immigratio­n system.

Wynne, of all politician­s of any stripe at any level has been the most aggressive in courting millennial­s.

Without them coming out in droves to vote for her in June, re-election seems a long shot.

So she has raised the minimum wage, instituted rent controls, launched pharmacare for everyone under 25, offered free post-secondary tuition for low- and middle-income families and offered free child care for pre-schoolers.

So, you win the millennial­s, you win the vote? Not so fast.

There are two problems with this strategy.

Millennial­s do not yet have a track record of reliabilit­y and it may still be a safer bet to target the over 60s who offer rock solid turnout rates.

And the way they receive their political informatio­n is sure to be a major issue, already highlighte­d by the Facebook Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. Policies may not be enough. Millennial­s can point to great influence in recent years.

The youth voter turnout jumped by 20 per cent in 2015, pushing Trudeau to a majority.

In the United Kingdom, a lopsided millennial vote for Labour Leader Jeremy Corbin left Conservati­ve Theresa May with a wobbly minority government.

In the U.S., they provided the oxygen in Bernie Sanders Democratic nomination race and helped elect Donald Trump by abandoning Hillary Clinton after Sanders was defeated.

Coletto feels none of the parties has dealt with housing affordabil­ity head on, but Trudeau’s Liberals have at least branded themselves properly for millennial­s with commitment­s to gender equality and climate change, even if they have fallen short on policy.

The outlier at both levels of government when seeking millennial support would be federal Conservati­ve Leader Andrew Scheer and Ontario Progressiv­e Conservati­ve Leader Doug Ford.

Again, Coletto says, this is a branding misfire — there is millennial policy space for both — because none sound progressiv­e on gender-based or sexual orientatio­n-based equality and both have ignored millennial­s’ preference for substantiv­e climate change action.

“There is huge intoleranc­e for intoleranc­e,” Coletto says.

Those are the issues, but there is still the delivery.

How do we guard against voting manipulati­on as we move into what experts call a third generation of targeting technologi­es that stay out of the grasp of policy-makers and endanger our democracy as we put more and more surveillan­ce sensors in our homes?

More on that in a subsequent column.

 ?? PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Justin Trudeau knew how to use the youth vote to get elected. Kathleen Wynne is trying to do the same, Tim Harper writes.
PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS Justin Trudeau knew how to use the youth vote to get elected. Kathleen Wynne is trying to do the same, Tim Harper writes.
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