Recent developments on the Alberta political scene are no doubt causing turmoil, instability and stress for provincially elected officials, but seem to have served as a much needed wake-up call for many Albertans.

Statistics on voter turnout in Alberta elections, according to elections surveys, are indicative of a general slumber amongst the citizenry. Even though voter turnout was up in some communities in the recent municipal elections, the general showing at the polls was abysmal. That collective abdication of duty, right, privilege – whatever your perspective is on what the vote represents – has been a growing issue in the province, with a record low voter turnout of 40% in the 2008 provincial election. Alberta’s voting statistics are reportedly the lowest in the country.

Although the root causes are no doubt complex, two demographic groups notably absent at the polls are the young and the male. Although I don’t belong in either of those groups, I do have kids in their twenties, and I’ve had opportunity to engage them in dialogue as well as many others in that age group. My findings may not be scientific, but I can tell you that two main roadblocks emerge in nearly every conversation I’ve had on the subject of failure to vote:

1) Boycott: The perceived lack of respectable leadership values such as integrity, honesty, accountability, responsiveness, etc  have led many to abdicate from participating in the vote. Young people see voting as involvement in “politics”, which they believe to be wholly destestible. They think they’re taking the high road, holding themselves above the standrd, by refusing to go anywhere near politics. Some actually feel they are making a statement of protest through boycotting the vote, or that voting for one party or another represents an endorsement of the in-fighting, backroom deals, croneyism and influence-peddling they feel is associated with partisan politics.

2) Indifference: A friend recently said to me, “Never underestimate the power of inertia”. It’s hard to imagine it, but there are adults in this province who do not know Ed Stelmach is (was) our premier. But even amongst those who have a general idea of what is going on in government, there are many who have never felt motivated to gain an understanding of the issues and the platforms and policies of the various parties, or to ever take the time to tick a box. With forty years of conservativism shaping our culture, we cannot ignore the fact that there are entire generations of non-participating voters who are, in essence, conservative by default.

A caveat must be added, insomuch as these two factors are not necessarily unique to young males. I’ve no doubt they apply across the demographic spectrum. Going forward we’re all going to need to take responsibility for our current reality and work together to generate real, meaningful, lasting change. I’ve been a small “c” and even a big “C” conservative all my life but I am gravely concerned about our future if we cannot inspire involvement in politics, even to the bare minimum of casting a vote, in our younger generations. The two reasons that Albertans don’t vote should cause those in government and, in fact, all of us, to makewhatever courageous decisions and bold changes are required to ensure the establishment of values-driven leadership and increased citizen engagement, regardless of who forms the government.

Our young men, and our young women, and all Albertans, have to hear the hard truth that if we want things to change, we have to wake up and generate it.

Tell me what you think.