Photo: Ajay Fidler browses through books in the university's Archer Library on election day.
A few days before the civic election, a 21-year-old man ate ravioli in La Bodega, a Cathedral Area restaurant. He discussed newly-released films, New York City, and socialism with his dining partner. He was, however, unaware that anything political was happening in his own city.
Ajay Fidler, a third-year University of Regina student, admitted to being oblivious to the flutter of local politics that occurred in the months leading up to the civic election.
That flurry reached its peak Oct. 28—election night.
Out of 144,124 eligible voters, 35,986 people voted in Regina's civic election, which means 24.97 per cent of those able to vote chose to do so. This is a decrease from the 2006 election, when voter turnout was 36.5 per cent. In 2003, when Mayor Pat Fiacco was acclaimed, turnout was 24.88 per cent.
Almost 60 per cent of eligible Saskatchewan voters cast a ballot in the 2008 federal election, however. And the overall voter turnout for the 2007 provincial election was 76 per cent.
The day before the election, Ralph Paragg, a U of R political science professor, said he expected youth voter turnout for the civic election to be lower than the overall turnout. “There’s really no issue that grabs young people,” he said. Paragg said civic politics affect other demographics more than young people—for example, property owners who might be worried about potholes in front of their homes.
Elections Canada tracks youth voter turnout. The agency does not yet have youth turnout numbers for the 2008 federal election, but it does have data for previous elections. About 27 per cent of eligible Saskatchewan residents aged 18-to-24-years old cast a ballot in the 2006 federal election.
Although Fidler voted in the last federal election, he said he knew nothing about the candidates or their platforms. When he saw the list of names on the ballot, he marked the box of the person “with the coolest-sounding name.”
Fidler suggested there be more advertising leading up to the civic election. Local media outlets have provided pre-election coverage, but Fidler said he doesn’t watch the news or read the paper regularly. He said time constraints and other priorities are partially to blame for his lack of knowledge regarding the election.
“I don’t have time. The news comes on at, what, six? I’m at school or work Maybe if the election was on Ellen (DeGeneres) I'd watch it.”
Not all students share Fidler’s feelings, however.
Adam Nelson, 20, is a third-year political science student. The day of the election, Nelson sat in the Riddell Centre before heading home to do school work. He said he planned on casting a ballot later that day. An avid voter, Nelson also cast ballots in the last federal and provincial elections.Municipal politicians deal with important, student-related issues, Nelson said.Public transit, condo conversions, and environmental issues such as waste and recycling are all dealt with at the local level.
Still, most of his friends, he said, weren’t planning on voting. “I’m not quite sure what can be done," Nelson said. "I mean there’s just a general apathy in every age group.”
Young people in particular might think municipal issues don’t affect them because things like tuition costs aren’t dealt with at a local level, said Nelson.
Another part of the problem might be that with other levels of government, “there’s chaos,” said Nelson. Youth might watch question period on TV and get excited about it, he said. The local level doesn’t get as much ongoing media attention, which might contribute to a lack of interest amongst young people.