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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Are Canadian youth politically active?

By Milton Orris

Over the past few years the media have frequently focused on the role of young people in a society being particularly active in political uprisings.  Remember Egypt, Tunisia, India, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, and currently the protests in Ukraine. Closer to home there was the surprise election of the Calgary’s young, Muslim mayor, apparently made possible by a vigorous social media campaign in which many young people took part.

As a youth in the 1940s to the 1970s I was expected by my family to be very, very active in every way – and I was – even running to be a candidate (didn‘t make it though) – however I have always worked hard in every election because that was my political heritage.   

Three things we need to know about Canadian youth and political action:

1. Young people will become politically active when there is a cause that they can identify with – whether it is the emergence of democracy in dictatorships or persuading governments to listen to them.

2. Young people in Canada are getting involved – look at the number of younger candidates in the last Federal Election who ran and were elected in Quebec especially, as well as a few others across the country.  However it is still a rather rare phenomenon.

3. There has been a decline in opportunity for young people to participate – the Young Liberals, Conservatives, NDP organizations have all but disappeared when compared to their existence and activity level in the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s. And now to make things worse the funding was removed from Elections Canada to do their Get Out The Youth Vote program they had in previous elections.

Three myths about Canadian youth and political action:

       Myth #1:  Young people don’t care. 

      The Reality:  They do. They just don’t see the major parties paying any attention to them or their concerns.
      Myth #2:  Attack ads really work.  

      The Reality:  They don’t and young people are increasingly fed up with the negativity of politics.
      Myth #3:  We can’t fix this.  

      The Reality:  Yes we can if we start getting involved at the high school level with the youngest potential voters and create a different political culture.  We need impartial speakers to give them the information, perhaps run “mock elections”, and encourage them to work for a candidate of their choice.

        Milton Orris is presently a consultant in Health and Education. He is President of Orris Consultants Inc., a company that has worked on strategic and operational planning, project management, leadership development, organizational renewal and related areas for a wide variety of organizations in Canada, the USA and 12 other countries around the world. His educational background includes a BA in History and Political Science at the University of Manitoba, a Master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, and PhD studies in Organizational Development at York University in Toronto. 

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