Justin Trudeau and the cynicism of Canadian Youth

Federal Liberal Leadership candidate Justin Trudeau speaks at Brandon University on January 31, 2013.
(Holly Kalyniuk/The Quill)

On Thursday January 31st, Justin Trudeau stopped by Brandon University to promote his bid for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and to meet potential supporters.  Manitoba does not have a strong base of Liberal supporters; of the 57 ridings represented in our provincial government, a Liberal holds only one of those seats.  Dr. Jon Gerrard is that MLA, having also the title of the leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba.  Likewise, we only have one Liberal MP representing our province.  The point of this short digression is that Trudeau came to a setting where, according to current numbers, he probably will not win much support – and so, in my opinion, his visit is all the more appreciated for that very reason.  I am always happy when politicians realize that there is more to the province of Manitoba than what is within the Perimeter Highway.

Trudeau gave an interesting presentation, focusing on the cynicism of youth and how that leads to disengagement from the political process.  He used the example of youth mobilizing during the Quebec student strike, but how that mobilization did not result in increased voter turnout among youth.  He talked about the Idle No More movement and how youth have been engaged through that.  His speech was, as to be expected, highly politicized, urging listeners to imagine a better world, then telling us why he is the only person that can lead the change necessary to bring that world to fruition.  While many in the crowd wanted to believe his words were the truth, I suppose we will not really be able to know until he has more of an ability to show us what he can do.  From an outside perspective, he has certainly been raised to be a successful politician.

Trudeau Jr.’s visit to our campus created more of a buzz about politics than I have experienced in a long time.  Even people who do not necessarily care about politics came out in droves to catch a glimpse of his admittedly rather attractive face.  Political affiliations – and “dreamy” men – aside, I think it was great for students to talk about politics.  It is important for youth to learn the facts and then speak up.  Otherwise, politicians will continue ignoring the youth demographic because it simply does not really benefit them to cater to our needs.  Health care will win them more votes than education because the elderly vote.  Though health care is immensely important, it is also important to make sure our youth have the tools to succeed in the world, as success is essential for economic growth.

I will end this by relaying the interesting conversation I had with Justin after his presentation.  I did not get the chance to ask him my question during his presentation, but was able to ask it afterwards.  I asked him what his thoughts were on creating a national postsecondary education act.  I also asked him what his thoughts were on the national student debt crisis, noting that the $15 billion cap was lifted last year, and subsequently raised.  This completely ignores the fact that student loan debt is going to become a huge economic issue in the coming years.  He did not answer my question, but instead gave me a target of educating more Canadians.  I asked him whether this would actually solve the problem, as we have a lot of youth who are educated but are underemployed.  He did not answer this question either.  He talked about some more of his views, and I said that talk unfortunately does not mean much: I need to have some sort of grasp of how he will accomplish his goals.  He then asked me if I was a supporter of the NDP.  I told him that I was not a card-carrying member of any political party, which is the truth.  He then asserted that I was an NDP.  I responded with the fact that it does not really matter what my political affiliations are, but what matters is that I am asking tough questions of someone who may very well be the next leader of our country.  To quote Justin Trudeau in a tweet he sent to me: “Keep pushing all politicians for better answers and more action. But don’t allow yourself to become cynical!”  This was perhaps the best thing he said all day.

I hope that Trudeau’s visit to our campus will not be the last visit by a major politician in the near future.  I also hope that it will be the fuel that leads to a greater sense of engagement with politics.  The democratic process is beautiful in that it sees every individual, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality (et cetera) as having a voice which has the same value as the next.  Regardless of our cynicism regarding politics and the political process, silencing that voice is not a useful form of objection: it just allows others to get away with their wrongful actions.  So speak up and make sure you are always conscious and critical of your leaders – and yes, that does include me.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 20, February 5, 2013.