Shades of cynicism


Issues / Saturday, March 31st, 2018

A couple of years ago there was a news report about the dropout and truancy rates in Nunavut. Dropout rates in the territory are high, a lot of kids just stop going to school. And in this story, if I’m remembering it right, it was in this story that I heard someone point out the fact that many of these kids have decades-old textbooks. Or it might have been about the school at Attawapiskat that was falling down around the students while making them sick.

And in the midst of one of these conversations, someone said to a reporter that if we don’t demonstrate to these kids that their education is important to us then it won’t be important to them.

This occurred to me as I sat at the Senate Liberals’ open caucus this week. The topic of the day was youth engagement. They were specifically focused on volunteerism, but I tend to focus more on youth engagement in politics.

And I think the idea transfers easily: If we don’t demonstrate that politics are important, then young people will turn away.

I once took a class on women in politics, and the professor went around the room asking each of us what made us interested in civics. Without fail, everyone in the room mentioned their mother’s interest and involvement. Every person.

I grew up in a household that never shied away from politics. Both my parents worked on Parliament Hill, both talked about the news on a regular basis. Though I went to journalism school with the desire to become a sports reporter, I often wonder if I missed a calling as a political journalist. When I decided to go back to school and get my degree I chose political science because that program had the most courses that sounded interesting, and when it was time to choose whether to specialize, I chose Canadian politics.

I care about Canada’s politics. I care enough to have devoted years of my life to it. Sometimes working 16 hour days for weeks at a time. I dedicated five years to earning degrees so I could do politics better. Understand things more clearly. I have worked with great people and learned a lot.

And as I step back to look at things now, it feels like the people playing the game are trying to demonstrate how mean and petty it can be – and turning young people off in the process.

Grown men hurling insults at each other, acting as though there are grey areas when things are black and white and black and white when things are grey. Telling lies, refusing to answer questions, pretending that their way is the only way.

Grown adults who try to shame and shout down young people for fighting for what they believe to be right.

I had a classmate during my Masters who had apparently been afraid to meet the rest of us because she believed that with that many people in a room with different political beliefs it would be like a bad political panel all the time. But the fact is that the disagreements on political panels is mostly for the camera.

Young people come in to politics believing that they have to fight and bully because their side is the right side. They believe this because nobody has demonstrated civil debate for them. They only see the show side of what happens, and so they believe that to be the way things are done. And so they do things that way and the drama continues for another generation.

Politicians of different political stripes talk to each other like human beings sometimes. Staffers cooperate. The Hill is full of people who are passionate about what they’re doing – and who have an understanding that the folks across the aisle are passionate about it too.

I want young people to see that. I don’t want to take them to see Question Period and be embarrassed about the childish display they see there. I want them to watch politics and see how much it matters. I want partisans to disagree with partisans without talking points or catch phrases.

It feels, right now, that there is a movement afoot. It feels as though young people are getting it. But I hope that they understand that without them things won’t change, and the system is what it is until they bring it.

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