I remember an exchange from several years ago, when a new pundit had appeared on one of the political shows for the first time and had, apparently, been as confrontational when the cameras were off as when they were on. The person telling me this story informed her to tone it down, because we’re all friends in real life.

Similarly, a classmate of mine told another one of our group that she had been a bit weary of meeting the rest of us, because she thought we would be in constant disagreement, at each other’s throats all the time. Because, of course, this is what most people see when they look at politics from outside Ottawa.

In fact, politicians and staffers of all parties are forced to work together to achieve anything on the Hill. Friendships form. Partisanship is put aside, occasionally, to get things done.

In my graduate class that was certainly the case. As it turned out the people I may disagree with most on certain policies are the people I like the most. Because we are able to have discussions and share viewpoints. It was one of my favourite things about doing my Master’s.

What I’m realizing now, watching politics from the outside, and having just finished reading Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, I understand that we are now getting a class of politicians and staffers who see all of the TV-ready battles as the reality of what politics is, because that’s what voters get to see most. It’s what turns people off politics, which is a real shame, and it is what makes the worst partisans.

I wonder if people coming up in politics think that you have to be hateful of the other side to succeed. That everything is black or white – or in our case blue or red or orange (and sometimes green). It’s not. That’s certainly not the way voters think any more, though I gather that in the “good ol’ days” people voted the way their father voted, etc.

I worry very much that people are being taught that they should align themselves with a single party, and that those who align themselves with other parties are bent on the destruction of everything they hold dear. I’m exhausted from the idea that a politicians should be attacked for gathering information and changing their mind about a policy – though I do think explanation is due in some cases.

What if our political leaders spoke to all of us in more than soundbites?

It’s a pipe dream, because soundbites are all they are given, and most average Canadians don’t even pay attention to those.

I had the opportunity to sit down with some young people the other day. Young people who are interested in politics and have ideas. I hope to usher them in to this world. I hope to encourage them along this path. They want to talk about lowering the voting age.

What if – I think – what if the voting age were lowered so that every student across the country had been through at least one election while they were still in high school and could be taught about the political system, the parties, the local candidates – actually being engaged by those candidates before they are sent off to the polling station.

Imagine it.

Imagine if students knew before we sent them off to be adults that these politicians are there to serve them, that they have a voice, and that the answer won’t be the same every time. That it’s not about what you see at Question Period, but what you think will change your life and the lives of those around you.

That the differences are not life and death, they are opinions about the best future and how we get there and none of them are all right or all wrong.

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