If at any point in the next while you’re looking to strike up a conversation about Canadian politics with a young person, be warned that you’re in for a trying endeavor. Provided there are no playoff NHL games, the CFL season is over and they have finished updating their Facebook page, you might stand a chance in hell. But don’t count on the interaction lasting more than 30 seconds or containing any degree of insight beyond “I don’t know,” “I don’t care” or “it really doesn’t matter to me.”
Unless you are content with making your way into the dilapidated hallways that house the faculty of Political Studies, it’s next to impossible to find a young person who really, truly cares about politics. In most Canadian cities, it’s probably easier to find a cheap fix than a citizen under the age of 25 with more than a couple grams of interest in the activities of their government.
Granted, in this age of video games, smartphones and a highly charismatic leader of the free world, Canadian politicians face some stiff competition. Long gone are the days when a neatly pressed woolen suit, trim facial hair and a firm willingness to perpetuate the status quo were enough to win the hearts of Canadians. In contemporary Canada, young people are making bold demands of their politicians — like the ability to generate meaningful and original ideas, express a tangible national vision or speak coherently in a non-evasive manner for more than a two-minute question period.
Through low voter turnout rates, little partisan involvement and an expansive disinterest in nearly all things political, young Canadians are sending a clear message to Canadian politicians: they are tired of the current state of politics. In response, politicians seem to be sending a clear message of their own: they are just plain tired.
To be fair, youth engagement and the desire for a brighter future for young people are common themes in almost any political speech or platform. They are as standard as posing for a photo holding a baby or wearing a ridiculous-looking hardhat while visiting a construction site in formal business attire.
But in order to convince and engage young people, there must be more than words on the table — especially when the individuals speaking them are hardly high-class orators themselves.
As it stands, the role of youth in Canadian politics rarely extends beyond the positions of door-knocker, pamphlet-pusher or, for those higher up on the chain, stander-behinder — who earn their keep by representing the ideals of “vigour” and “diversity” by providing the backdrop to politicians during speeches or media events.
In an ideal world, Canadian politicians would be iconic symbols of democratic governance, accountable representation and progressive thinking. In reality, our political system is more commonly seen as a symbol of conflict, corruption, mediocrity and deception. It is little wonder why young people have a hard time finding any reverence for our political institutions, or any compelling reason to take part in the political process.
Given the cynical view that Canadians often hold of their leaders, there is little incentive for young people to strive toward becoming one of those leaders themselves.
image: Scott Maxwell