Despite being ineligible to cast a ballot in the upcoming Ontario provincial election, some high school students in Windsor-Essex are still raising their voices about the issues they care about.
After two years of a global pandemic, youth who spoke with CBC News say that more than ever they are acutely aware of the impact government decisions have on their daily lives. And now, amid a recovering economy, many of them worry about the affordability of higher education and housing, as well as accessible health care.
Even though the 17-year-olds CBC News spoke with are all turning 18 years old in the next few months, they aren’t able to cast a ballot in favour of the political party that best aligns with the future they want. They said it’s disappointing their voices won’t count, even though they’ll have to deal with the elected political party for the next four years.
“Government affects us,” said 17-year-old Kayla Kwiatkowski.
“No matter what way you look at it, government is going to affect your everyday life.”
Accessible health care
Kwiatkowski, a grade 12 student at St. Thomas Villanova Catholic High School in LaSalle, said she’s particularly interested in a better pharmacare program in Ontario.
Currently, certain residents qualify for the Ontario Drug Benefit program, which covers most of the cost of about 5,000 prescription drugs.
People younger than 24 years old, who do not have coverage through a private insurance plan, are covered under this plan, according to the government’s website.
According to the latest drug report that the Ministry of Health released for 2015-2016, an estimated 2.2 million people in the province were uninsured.
Additionally, a study that looked at drug prices in 2015 found that Canada had the second highest medication costs for common conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.
For Kwiatkowski, the issue is personal. She said a family member has diabetes and without health benefits, the cost of medication would be unbearable.
Recovering economy, post-secondary tuition
When 17-year-old Hamza Hamud goes to get groceries or fill up on gas, he said he’s noticed just how much the cost of living has gone up.
“I care about the economy,” said Hamud, who attends Windsor Islamic High School.
“You see when you start buying stuff yourself, paying bills, I see that inflation … the price has doubled.”
In April, Statistics Canada reported that prices are about 6.7 per cent higher than they were this time last year. According to the data collector, this is the highest inflation has been in 31 years.
Amid rising costs, these students are also planning to attend post-secondary education — something they say hasn’t gotten any more affordable.
“As a senior in high school that will be pursuing post-secondary education, I’m really looking into the outrageous amount of student debt that is imposed on every student that chooses to pursue that higher education,” said 17-year-old Krista Abdel Sater.
“The future of this country needs to have some type of support from government officials in order to advance our knowledge and contribute to Canadian society and economy.”
Kwiatkowski also said the cost of schooling, along with the lack of affordable housing, are significantly impacting decisions about her education.
“I can’t go away for college, to the college I want to, because I can’t afford it,” she said.
Should the voting age be lowered?
Communications manager with Future Majority, Meshall Awan, told CBC News that her organization has advocated for the voting age to be lowered to 16 years old.
Future Majority is a national, non-partisan organization focused on encouraging young people to vote.
“We know that more so than ever now, young Canadians are very politically active. They talk about politics, they go to protests more than older age demographics do,” she said.
“If we lower the voting age, we are going to see action on these big issues that are impacting all Canadians.”
She said when youth are engaged at a younger age, it will allow for “long-term democratic engagement.”
“We have decades of research that shows that when young people are engaged early on you actually create a generation of lifetime voters,” she said, adding that it “threatens democracy” and creates more polarization if young people aren’t part of the conversation.
The teens CBC News spoke with said they do feel ready to vote, and that not being able to is disappointing.
“It definitely feels very isolating,” said Abdel Sater, who is turning 18 years old just weeks after the June 2 provincial election.
“Even if, say, I do agree with the political party that turns out to win, it still feels like someone is imposing something on me without me having a say in it at all.”
Abdel Sater said she wants to see politicians include everyone in the conversation, even those unable to vote.
“Government officials should amplify youth voices in political spaces, starting from high school,” she said.