Ontario is gearing up for a provincial election on June 7th, and Quebec isn’t far behind. While some people may already know who they plan to vote for this time around, others may still be feeling unsure of how (or if) they will vote on Election Day.

For those of us in youth-serving sectors and related fields, and for young people with lived experience of homelessness, A Way Home Canada and Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth in Toronto have collaborated to create an overview of how to navigate the provincial political landscape around election time and to inform your decision making process.

Who can vote?
If you’re a Canadian citizen, resident of the province where the election is being held, and are 18 or older, you can vote. If you’re under 18 or currently not eligible to vote, this information is still valuable and can help you make decisions both now and in the future. There have also been public discussions about lowering the voting age, which is something to think about for young people who want to have a say.

Whom or what am I voting for?
There are three orders of government, each with its own areas of responsibility: municipal, provincial, and federal. The issues surrounding youth homelessness are complex and each order of government addresses them in multiple ways.

In June, residents of Ontario will be voting for their provincial government. Individuals don’t vote for the party’s leader directly, but instead choose whom they would like to be their Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP)1, the representative in your area of the province or “riding”. However, in Canada’s electoral system, your vote also indicates that you are in favour of your chosen candidate’s party.

Each party has its own priorities that are put into a ‘platform’. The platform explains what the party might do if it were to lead the government. It can tell you what its supporters value, whose interests it represents, and how it plans to will achieve its goals 2. Looking at a party’s platform, the goal is to figure out what it all means to you, your family, or your community.

What matters to me?
Putting government and politics aside for a moment, think about the issues or challenges that affect you and your community on a regular basis. When it’s functioning well, the government should reflect and try to address the issues that matter to its communities and constituents (that’s you!). When it comes to youth homelessness, there are a number of policy areas in the provincial jurisdiction3 to pay attention to in each party’s platform or when hearing from your local candidates. Below are some key areas Eva’s came up with that are important to think about in upcoming elections, which we expand on with some questions to help inform your thinking.

Mental Health: Homelessness has direct impacts on developing adolescents’ mental health and wellbeing, requiring specialized supports to equip them with healthy coping mechanisms and tools for success.

What will your candidate/party commit to around ensuring youth have access to mental health and addictions/substance use supports?
Colonization and Discrimination: Many young people are at higher risk of homelessness, including Indigenous youth, racialized youth, and trans youth. The impacts of intergenerational trauma from colonization continue to be a barrier to young Indigenous people in Canada. Racism, both overt and systemic, put Indigenous, Black and newcomer youth, in particular, at significant disadvantage to their non-racialized peers, requiring culturally appropriate and specialized supports to help them thrive. Trans youth face discrimination and transphobia and need safe and accepting spaces to go for help.

What steps will your candidate/party take to implement the Calls to Acton from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, address social discrimination, promote equitable treatment, and provide specialized supports for young people who face higher risk of homelessness?
Child Protection: In Canada’s first national survey on youth homelessness, Without A Home, 57.8% of young people experiencing homelessness had been involved with child protective services to some degree in their lifetime4. Child protective services can be a first line of support for young people and their families to do early intervention and prevention work to keep families together, where safe and appropriate. This requires adequate funding, standards, and policies to support programs, such as kinship care, that focus on family reunification and healing and reduce the number of young people entering the system. For those young people who are in the child protection system, we need to ensure they are supported to make healthy and safe transitions out of care and toward adulthood.

How will your candidate/party support families, children, and youth to prevent them from becoming involved with child protection, adequately fund the child protective services that are needed, and provide ongoing supports to youth that are exiting or have left the system?
Housing and Income: Affordable, safe, and appropriate housing for young people and families is a crucial foundation for success, but is increasingly difficult come by, and costs of living are rising. Young people are also discriminated against when they try to access rental housing. Shelters are not long-term solutions, and we need to do a better job of preventing young people from becoming homeless in the first place. Young people need housing options that match their unique stage in life and the care and supports to maintain their housing. They should be able to stay in the communities they know and feel safe in, not pushed further to the margins of society to access housing, jobs and services.

What measures will your candidate/party take to alleviate poverty, and ensure that there is adequate affordable housing supply to meet the demand (e.g. Incentives for developers; Matching federal rent supplements; social procurement; Inclusionary zoning; etc.)?
Education: The 2016 Without A Home Study found that 65% of young people that experience homelessness are have not completed high school. Today’s job market increasingly requires higher education in order to secure a sustainable income and future, however the cost of post-secondary schooling is rising. Additional challenges such as learning disabilities and previous experiences of being bullied in school can limit young people’s educational achievements without proper supports in place.

What will your candidate/party do to ensure young people with all levels of income and backgrounds have access and supports to pursue and complete secondary and post-secondary studies without a high burden of debt?
Of course, this list is just to get you started. There are many other topics and issues surrounding youth homelessness that aren’t on this list and you’ll likely come up with more as you start working through party platforms and thinking for yourself. For example, public transportation infrastructure and accessibility, and crime prevention and restorative justice can enhance young people’s resilience and/or impact their risk of homelessness. You may also want to know whether these issues could be impacted by funding cuts if your candidate’s party comes into power.

Where else can I look for information?
Party platforms are a good starting point, but they don’t necessarily list all issues the party cares about or that your candidates may have an opinion on. Particularly if your candidate has been your riding’s representative before, you can do some online research and look into their track-record on a particular subject or issue.

When internet searches fail, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask candidates about the topics that are important to you! Call, email, or contact them through social media with your questions. How (or if) they respond to you may give you a hint about how responsive they’ll be if elected.

If you’re concerned that a candidate might not connect with or fully understand your issue, take a look at what they are campaigning on. Do they say they support families? Mental health? Education? Try re-framing your message from these perspectives. Showing how your issue relates directly to their campaign, may make your candidate more inclined to be responsive and champion that issue when elected.

Don’t candidates just say what they think I want to hear?
For the most part, absolutely – candidates want your vote, after all! However, when you talk to your candidates you can get a sense of whether someone really hears what you’re saying and shows interest in pursuing further conversations and information. Your candidate may not be an expert on youth homelessness, but if they show genuine interest in learning more and doing something about it, that’s an attitude you can work with!

Candidates have a lot to learn during the campaign and after the election. Once elected, we can continue to build relationships with our representatives by reaching out and having conversations to help them understand the issues that affect their community (what we call ‘Politicking’).

I don’t want to/cannot vote. What can I do instead?
Some people are not eligible to vote. Others decide not to vote, and that’s a valid choice. Those that do not vote may feel that none of the candidates represent them, or that they’ve been failed by the political system and don’t want to participate. Regardless of why an individual doesn’t or cannot vote, there are many other ways to be involved in the political process and have your voice heard. You can join political conversations in person and online, sign petitions, participate in public demonstrations/protests, and volunteer, to name a few options.

For those of us who can and do want to vote, we can show solidarity by challenging our candidates to address the concerns of those that feel left behind or unheard by our political system – these may be the communities that are the most marginalized. It’s our duty as allies to show our candidates that the issues that matter to those communities, matter to all of us.

After the election, is there anything else I can do?

When the polls are closed and the new government is announced, your work is just beginning! Your newly-elected MPP will be going to the legislature to represent you and should be accountable to you. If they or their party don’t seem to be acting in the interests of young people at risk of or experiencing homelessness, you can reach out to voice your concerns. If there’s a bill or piece of policy that you hope they will support, contact them and let them know why it matters to their community5.

The government puts tax dollars toward programs and services you and your neighbours use every single day, from hospitals, to schools, to transportation systems, and beyond. When we don’t invest in proactive solutions to prevent issues like youth homelessness, not only does it have a human cost of suffering and unmet potential, but the financial cost of managing the issue only grows larger. We have to ask our political leaders to have the vision and sense of urgency to help our province and the people in it to thrive both now and in the future.

We hope that over the coming months and beyond the election date you are able to meaningfully engage with your local candidates in order to determine whom will best represent you, your community, and the young people that need our support!

Have other ideas on how to engage with the provincial political system leading up to and beyond election season? Or perhaps you or your organization are helping youth at-risk of and/or experiencing homelessness to engage with their local candidates and the political system? We’d love to hear what you’re doing! Please comment below or on social media – we may follow-up for more information in order to enhance this body of knowledge for other individuals and communities.

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1. Or Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) in some provinces.

2. In Canada, the mandate of political parties is put to the test by government bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are unelected professionals who try to put the government’s priorities into action. Bureaucrats have policy and research expertise, and sometimes, what the party wants to do looks good on paper, but is a lot harder to put into action. That’s part of the reason why not everything in a party’s platform becomes a reality when that party comes into power.

3. The Canadian Constitution Act, 1867 sets out the Division of Powers for the Federal and Provincial governments. This indicates what is within the jurisdiction of each order of government. Note that municipalities are not a constitutionally mandated entity, but are developed under the purview of provincial governments (often referred to as ‘creatures’ of the provinces). Read more about the Division of Powers here: https://www.canada.ca/en/intergovernmental-affairs/services/federation/distribution-legislative-powers.html

4. Take a look at A Way Home Canada’s Child Welfare Policy Brief for more analysis and recommendations.

5. If you are a non-profit organization, or acting on behalf of one, there may be more constraints around advocacy for particular pieces of policy. Be sure to be clear on what activities are allowable, and what are considered advocacy or lobbying activities in your province and at the federal level (they are different).