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Trudeau is courting Gen Z and millennials — even as they turn to rival parties

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says this month’s federal budget will focus on helping Gen Z and millennial Canadians — as polls suggest those voters are increasingly turning to opposition parties.

“I think about the people who voted for me for the very first time they ever voted in 2015, and who are now in their mid- to late-20s and struggling,” Trudeau told The Current’s Matt Galloway. 

The Liberal leader said those age groups, born after 1980, are feeling the squeeze on everything from housing to groceries — and are worried about their future.

“That’s why we’re putting forward a focus on building for them … of restoring fairness for them in a system that, yes, has increasingly gotten stacked against them, not just, you know, in Canada, but around the world.” 

Trudeau and several key ministers have been crossing the country making campaign-style announcements ahead of the federal budget on April 16. In recent days they have announced support for renters, and plans to create a national school food program.

WATCH | I’m focused on solving problems, not fuelling anger, says Trudeau:

Trudeau’s pre-budget pledges target millennial, Gen Z voters

In an interview with CBC Radio’s The Current, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that many younger Canadians ‘don’t feel like the system works for them anymore.’

A surge in the millennial vote was largely credited with helping Trudeau’s Liberals win power in the 2015 federal election. But last month, a survey from Abacus Data found that voters in those younger demographics are leaning decisively towards Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada. 

The survey found that 41 per cent of 30-44 year-olds would vote Conservative if the election was held tomorrow, compared to 20 per cent Liberal. For 18-29-year-olds, 34 per cent said they would vote Conservative, compared to 21 per cent leaning Liberal. The Liberals also trail the NDP in both age cohorts. Abacus Data spoke with 3,550 adults across Canada — with an intentional oversampling in Ontario and Alberta — between March 16 and 21. 

Younger voters want to see any pledges, from any party, turn into solid action, said Samantha Reusch, executive director of Apathy is Boring, a non-partisan charitable organization that works to increase youth participation in Canada’s democracy.

“Their faith in the capacity and credibility of government to deliver on these issues has been shaken,” she said.

Reusch said she has regular conversations with young voters about challenges like housing and affordability, and says many people in that demographic feel like milestones that their parents took for granted are no longer within reach.

“I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of those indignities on the sentiment that young people feel towards their institutions, but also towards society at large,” Reusch told The Current.

A woman stands and poses for a photo. she us wear a white top and dark pinstripe pants. She has her hands in her pockets and is smiling for the camera.
Many younger Canadians have had their faith in government shaken, said Samantha Reusch, executive director of Apathy is Boring. (Submitted by Apathy is Boring)

A Statistics Canada report in February said that millennials now outnumber baby boomers, and are the largest population cohort in Canada.

Despite that shift in electoral prowess, Reusch said that it will take time for young people to regain trust in what any level of government can do to “create a stable and prosperous life for them.”

Conservatives criticize ‘photo op fund’

The prime minister acknowledged that many younger Canadians “don’t feel like the system works for them anymore,” and said the “government has a role in making sure that there is fairness for them.”

“These are things that you can either sit back and say, ‘OK, let me amplify the anger of young people or let me solve it,’ and I’m focused on solving,” he said.

This week, the Liberals also pledged new funding to increase housing supply and the infrastructure needed to build it. 

WATCH | Poilievre slams Trudeau on housing:

Poilievre slams PM on housing, says Trudeau ‘funds gatekeepers’

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s housing plans Thursday, saying the Liberal government’s ‘inflationary deficits’ and ‘taxes and bureaucracy’ are holding back construction of new homes.

Conservative housing critic Scott Aitchison dismissed those announcements as “a $4-billion dollar photo op fund.”

“After eight years of Trudeau, rents and mortgages have doubled, middle class Canadians are forced to live in tent encampments in nearly every city across the country, and his inflationary taxes and spending have driven up interest rates, causing more hurt for Canadians,” he said in a statement. 

Trudeau accused the Conservative Party and its leader Pierre Poilievre of “recognizing and amplifying the frustration and anger people are feeling,” but failing to provide alternatives or solutions on issues like housing, affordability or the price on carbon.

Last September, Poilievre proposed measures that tie federal funding to housing starts. Funding would be withheld from cities that fail to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent, while those that pass that threshold would receive bonuses.

Polls and personal attacks

Abacus Data’s March survey found that 58 per cent of respondents have a negative impression of the prime minister, while 24 per cent have a positive view. Fifty-two per cent of respondents felt the time has come to elect a new prime minister, and that a good alternative is available.

Trudeau said he thinks that “there is a lot of frustration with the way the world is unfolding,” and he understands why that frustration can be directed at people in positions of power.

“I think ultimately the government is responsible for many, many things, good things and bad, and we wear that,” he said. 

“But my job is to stay focused on the solutions.”

When asked why his popularity has dipped to the point where people proudly display flags and stickers bearing the words “F–k Trudeau,” the prime minister said there’s “a level of polarization and toxicity” that is very visible in both social media and real life these days.

“But most Canadians remain thoughtful and open and decent, and yes, frustrated and worried about their future,” he said.


Editor’s note: The Abacus Data online survey was carried out between March 16-21, 2024 among 3,550 Canadian adults on the Lucid exchange platform. Though a margin of error cannot be given for a sample from online panel sources, the margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 1.7%, 19 times out of 20.

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