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As the election campaign resumes, the Liberals and Conservatives battle over who will be more accountable. Meanwhile, both parties continue to ignore the concerns of young voters.

The rising lack of youth participation in electoral politics has been cited as one of the biggest factors in the growing crisis of declining voter turnout in Canadian elections.

The vote gap is huge. Looking at voter participation in the 2000 election, the Dominion Institute found that 80 per cent of voters 48 and older, on average, cast a ballot versus 29 per cent of Canadians 18 to 30. This compares to 47 per cent of American youth who voted in their 2004 election, which might surprise some of us.

Independent analysis produced by Elections Canada found that voters born after 1970 hold a different set of priorities and interact with the political process differently from older voters.

Looking at the 2004 election, researchers found that young voters were significantly less likely to identify health care and issues like the sponsorship scandal as their top priorities. They were more likely to want to hear about economic issues and education than were their older counterparts. But these issues received far less attention.

Clearly, youth aren’t the only ones who are cynical about politics. But the lack of youth participation gives both the Liberals and the Conservatives an excuse to ignore youth concerns. Until young people demonstrate the depth of their alienation in anti-social ways, they don’t get noticed.

But in the era of low-paying service sector McJobs and economic marginalization, cutting funding for social programs and services like settlement programs and job counseling – programs that benefit all members of a family – leads to dire consequences. And neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives take a holistic view of the problems facing young people today. Misguided “law and order” measures and prisons cannot be the only policies and social programs for youth.

Liberal Leader Paul Martin should know better. As finance minister, he led the charge in radically cutting federal transfers to the provinces. Martin cut federal spending by almost $10 billion, or 9 per cent, in the 1995 budget alone, setting the stage for (some) provincial governments to further cut funding and services. Today’s problems are caused by yesterday’s decisions.

Importantly, the analysis produced by Elections Canada shows that the lack of interest in voting may not be the result of apathy, but a reaction to what parties focus on. Including youth issues in campaigns (education, jobs, training, etc.) would be a start.

Meantime, the only thing that will keep the federal government more accountable is more NDP MPs.

Since neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives will take youth issues seriously, more NDP MPs would ensure that the federal government acts in everybody’s interest.

The NDP showed that last spring by re-writing the Liberals’ 2005 budget to include, among other things, more money for education funding. More can be done, with more MPs genuinely sensitive to youth concerns.

Outgoing NDP veteran Ed Broadbent said in his farewell speech to Parliament that, in a healthy democracy, the major focus of public concern and debate should be on the substance of policy – not on the integrity of personalities or the political process. This means issues directly relevant to Canada’s younger citizens.