Youth ostracism in Canadian politics

Elections in recent history have told the same story again and again: Young people aren’t voting.

Sure, some of us are. Many others are attempting to bring in more of their peers through vote mobs and other social media pressures, yet to date the evidence is that these efforts have been a disappointing flop.

The occupy movements were a brief glimmer of hope, but it remains unclear whether these protests have truly engaged the disaffected youth or just tapped into those who were already involved.

Progressive parties know that the next generations shares their values of equality and inclusiveness, yet they have failed to date to truly connect.

Two recent stories only further the disenfranchisement.

This weekend the Liberal Party of Canada held their Renewal conference in Ottawa. The conference is meant to reverse the tide of bad luck that has befallen the party over the past decade.

While some big ideas were put forward to revolutionize the internal structure of the party, the policy resolutions mostly avoided discussing real issues in favour of commitments to form committees to study issues. As an example, the environment was absent from the proposed resolutions, while a plan to develop a national food strategy was passed.

One of the failed resolutions was to study whether Canada should seek to abolish the monarchy and replace it with an elected Canadian head of state. This motion was put forward by the party’s youth wing and Liberal Youth Vice-President Sean Southerland argued vociferously in support of the motion

“No Canadian can ever aspire to hold the position,” argued Liberal youth vice-president Sean Sutherland, who presented the motion. He urged delegates to be bold as they were Saturday night when they adopted opening up the party to a new class of “supporters”.

“Instead it has been historically held by an unelected monarch who lives an ocean away,” said Mr. Sutherland.

He noted that Liberals are not strangers to controversial positions, saying that in the 1990s their debates about legalizing same-sex marriage were dismissed as not important as this monarchy resolution is being today.

“That didn’t stop young Liberals then. This won’t stop us now,” vowed Mr. Sutherland.

62 per cent of delegates ended up voting against the youth-led initiative. While many argued either in favour of Canada’s historical ties or that the issue was too divisive, the most worrying issue was the following:

But what received the most applause and support were the delegate’s statements, who accused Liberal youth leaders of betraying the trust of other young Liberals.

Instead of talking about what is important to them and what truly affects their lives – “shrinking jobs,” post-secondary education and increase of aboriginal Canadians in jail – they chose this motion that can “only bring harm and ridicule to our party,” [delegate Ryan] Barber said.

There is nothing quite like the party elders talking down to the younger generation. Clearly the young Liberals are mistaken about what issues their supposed to be representing.

Imagine the controversy if people applauded when the chair of a women’s or First Nation’s caucus was chastised for not properly representing their constituents. If young people in the Liberal Party are dissatisfied with their current leadership or the resolutions put forward, I’m assuming the party has democratic means for them to be replaced.

But by approving of this attitude that young people should know their place, the Liberal delegates have shown their hands as intolerant and untrusting of younger people and their ideas.

The next story comes from Alberta NDP member Denny Holmwood who has accused the federal NDP of discriminating against young and unwaged party members.

The controversy comes from the registration process for the coming leadership convention. While all members will be able to vote for the next leader, many will want to attend the conference in person. The fees are set at $299 until the end of January and $349 afterward. These costs are prohibitive to many and the NDP has a long history of offering discounts to those who can’t afford them – typically the young and unemployed.

However, to reduce the number of potentially fraudulent registrations, the party is requiring youth and unwaged delegates to call a 1-866 number, which may only be available during Ontario business hours (9am  to 5pm in Ontario is 6am to 2pm Vancouver).

With today’s connected youth, do we really want to be adding additional hurdles to their full participation? Conventions are a great chance to build connections and to rally new members into the party. The NDP should be seeking to encourage more young people to be attending the conference, not impeding their ability.

Please sign Denny’s petition to get the NDP to change their position.

I would rather see more people sneak in at a discounted rate than anyone be turned away by difficulties.

4 thoughts on “Youth ostracism in Canadian politics”

  1. “Instead of talking about what is important to them and what truly affects their lives – “shrinking jobs,” post-secondary education and increase of aboriginal Canadians in jail – they chose this motion that can “only bring harm and ridicule to our party,” [delegate Ryan] Barber said. ”

    According to a 2009 Macleans’ article Canada spends “$40 million or $50 million [a year]”; I suspect that figure is higher in the years after 2009. The 40 or 50 million dollars saved when Canadians stop supporting the monarchy could be applied to what Ryan Barber thinks Liberal youth leaders should be concerned about.

    PS I signed Denny’s petition.

  2. Thanks for the support Ian.

    Fortunately for me I’m in a financial position where if I am able to get the time off work to go to convention I’ll be able (and had planned) to pay the full price. A lot of people aren’t in this position and it’s disappointing to see extra hoops added for them to get the discount that has traditionally been offered. However if I did need the discount it seems that I wouldn’t be able to get it since the only phone I have access to during business hours is my employers phone which I can’t/won’t use to make political calls.
    Initially I’d hoped that the youth option had just been removed to fix another glitch (previously if you checked off for a youth it also asked if you planned on attending the June 2011 youth convention which had already happened) but Deveraux’s response to the NDYA confirmed that removing youth and the unwaged from those eligible to register online was intentional.

    Fortunately two leadership candidates have already stepped up and said this is wrong. Romeo Saganash has signed the petition and retweeted it, and Nathan Cullen has responded to my e-mail and promised to raise the issue with the party.

  3. Hi Denny,

    It seems the Globe and Mail made a small mistake in the article you’re quoting. While I did say I thought the motion would be “very divisive and alienate Liberal supporters.” and finished up with “Do you want to hear the words ‘President Harper’,” I did not make the other comments attributed to me. To my recollection it was one of the youth delegates at microphone 3 (I was at 6, and if you’re like me you PVR’ed CPAC all weekend so you can check it out if you’re unsure).

    I would just like to state that, while I strongly opposed the motion, I feel the youth wing had nothing to be ashamed of in bringing it forward. Quite to the contrary the Young Liberals have been at the forefront of bringing forward fresh ideas in the party and without question were the all stars of the convention this weekend, from their advocacy for primaries and their cosponsoring and advocacy of the marijuana legalization motion, which I think will play a significant role in how we’re defined in the coming months and years. The motion on abolishing the monarchy however was, even if one were so inclined, weakly worded. Establishing an all party committee to explore the idea was not the best way that could of been presented, and while I credit Mr. Sutherland for having the guts to stand up for his convictions I would suggest the YLC put equal care into the wording of motions like that as they did everything else they did so well this past weekend.

    Hope that clears things up a little!

    – Ryan Barber, Simcoe North

  4. I didn’t write anything about what you said Ryan, I think you meant to address that to Ian.

    Anyways, the NDP restored the ability for youth and unwaged delegates to register online today.

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