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Young voters excited to turn out for P.E.I. election night party

Incoming president of the UPEI student association Emma Drake debates election issues with friends on April 23, 2019.
Incoming president of the UPEI student association Emma Drake debates election issues with friends on April 23, 2019. - Jensen Edwards

While pub windows in Charlottetown were reflecting TVs playing game seven of the Leafs-Bruins playoff series, just over 50 university-aged Islanders stared at screens in a basement bar, waiting to see the impact of their first-ever votes.

“It’s like Christmas,” said 20-year-old Emma Drake about dropping her ballot in the box earlier Tuesday.

The first-time voter and incoming president of the UPEI student union sat with friends at Bar 1911 in Charlottetown, intent on the results and offering clips of commentary as incumbents fell and upsets were announced.

While the province’s university-aged population (18-24) boasts over 9,000 voters, the youth vote has historically been hesitant to cast ballots in past elections.

Only 42.9 per cent of eligible male voters in the province participated in the 2015 federal election; 67.9 per cent of eligible female voters did the same.

But at the UPEI viewing party at a bar off Longworth Avenue in Charlottetown, young voices indicated a change.

“I feel like there was a lot of excitement about what could happen in this election,” said 21-year-old Jessica Arbing. “(I’m here because) I wanted to be around people who were as excited as I am.”

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She and others at the bar said they voted this year because it would have been disingenuous not to.

“We’re all politically active, so it would be hypocritical not to vote,” she said.

“There was also the idea that something could change,” added fourth-year UPEI student Nick Scott.

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Where Arbing was concerned about women’s issues and the environment, other young people expressed concern and uncertainty about their futures as life-long Islanders.

A 29-year-old friend of Drake’s said that she has only just returned to P.E.I. after having left for two years after university. She couldn’t find work in her field after graduation.

Youth flight has preoccupied the province, too. Last summer’s “Maybe you should come home” plea from the government tried to bring young people back to the Island, but some of the campaign’s would-be targets said they don’t feel the pull.

Scott, who plans to leave the province when he is done school, suggested that rather than trying to lure ex-Islanders back, P.E.I. ought to focus on bringing outsiders in.

His friend and fourth-year UPEI biology student Emily Brandon is planning to stay after graduation but only because she wants to become a nurse and she knows there will be job opportunities for her here.

Even then, Brandon acknowledged that many of her friends just want to leave P.E.I. to experience something new.

Voting is a start.

“We have the opportunity to determine our tomorrow,” said Drake.

As the young patrons at Bar 1911 watched their ballots be counted, their claps, cheers and frantic pointing to TV screens told the plotlines of the evening.

First was a moment of silence, when the barroom din fell away as photos of the late Green candidate Josh Underhay and his son filled the TV screens.

The two died Friday after their canoe capsized on the Hillsborough River.

Just a couple of minutes later, though, cheers shattered the quiet when a green block flashed onto the TV screens, indicating that Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker had likely retained his seat. The result would be confirmed nearly an hour later.

“No!” shouted one woman when two seats were added to the Progressive Conservative tally. “But he’s a nice person,” replied a quiet voice from the corner of the room – an apt encapsulation of the relatively friendly election campaign.

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