"The thing is, it's not even the right question."
My friend Amy looked thoughtfully at her peppermint tea as she used her stir stick to pull out the tea bag, wrapping it tightly around itself like a slug enveloping a tree branch.
I took a sip of my pumpkin spice latte. "What's the question then?"
Amy strained the last of the water from the bag and rested it on a plastic cup lid.
"People ask why youth aren't engaged in politics, but instead they should be asking politicians why they're failing at engaging the youth. It's their job to sell themselves to us, not vice versa."
"Exactly!" exclaimed Sasha as he took a break from his cinnamon bun to join in on the conversation.
I have to say, there's something satisfying about discussing political engagement in the warmth of a downtown Starbucks on a rainy Sunday. But today's ponderings and debatenstances (yes, that's a mix of debate and happenstance) were for more than our own geeky amusement- we were getting Amy's head in the game for her appearance on Goldhawk Live on CPAC. She was going to be on a panel for the topic Our democracy is broken - how do we fix it?... because that's what happens when you're Canada's Next Great Prime Minister- you're kind of a big deal and become parts of panels that say lots of smart things and stuff. Or so I'm told. I live vicariously through Amy's brilliance.
In that cozy hour or so at the back of the cafe, we had probably one of the best conversations on the topic of youth engagement/ general voter engagement that I've ever had. Which is saying something considering I spent a year working on exactly that topic while at Historica and ran my own Next Great PM campaign on youth engagement.
With Amy and Sasha's brilliance and general political know-how, we came to a few conclusions...
1. It's not just about youth not participating in the party system.
It's also about the parties purposefully reaching out to youth to include them in more than simple token gestures and offers. But this will only if they see it as worth their while, so...
2. Make the system benefit parties that reach out to all voters.
"Why not cut out the funding machine and make all party funding tied to the votes you receive?" Sasha pointed out. "Suddenly that 18-30 becomes a lot more relevant..."
3. "Youth" is not a defined demographic. Not even close.
"In every other case, parties are considering different races, genders, incomes, employments... but 18-30 are somehow considered some homogeneous group when the parties and media are discussing politics," said Amy.
And it's true- 18 to 30 ranges from high school students to university or college students or even people well established in their careers-- and are just as diverse in terms of race, income, employment, region... why are they suddenly the same when it comes to the polling booth?
... I returned home full pumpkin spice and political reform vigour. Maybe I've found my topic for my Political Affairs research article?
And, of course, Amy was fabulously well-spoken and knowledgeable on the panel as the only female... and the only person under 40. Oh the irony of old white men debating youth engagement in politics.
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