May 2, 2011 will surely be remembered as one of the most surprising and interesting days in Canadian history. It’s rare that our nation radically redefines its political make-up, but the federal election of 2011 was undoubtedly such an event: a Conservative majority, the NDP as official opposition, and the once-powerful Liberal Party of Canada relegated to a distant third place. Furthermore, the regional, sovereigntist Bloc Québécois has been virtually banished from Parliament after 20 years of hypocritical political games, and, like a small but vibrant light, the Green Party of Canada finally wins a seat. The nearly five years of government that are about to ensue promise to be dramatic and effective (whether those effects are positive or negative is subjective, of course), and may possibly reshape Canada into a form that its young will inherit and its elder generations will find unrecognizable.
For this writer, apprehension is the only word that describes our new political reality. I’ve followed the wrangling and pageantry of Canadian federal politics for quite some time in my relatively short life, and can confidently say that the outcome of this election was both unexpected and extraordinary. I am concerned about the direction the country is undoubtedly about to take—a journey that some will be thankful for and others will find deeply troubling. Such is the case with any radical shift in politics, of course, but I believe I will find myself in the latter category in five years’ time. I generally refrain from politically labelling myself, but if I must, I suppose “pragmatic liberal” is the most apt descriptor. Most concerning is that I see remarkably few people my age who are interested in our recent politics.
I’m patriotic and I love my country, but I’ve always found it to be an understated yet powerful pride. For me, this (supposedly) quiet and unassuming character is what epitomizes Canada. We are a nation famous for being polite and calm, a seemingly timid yet vast Northern frontier. Underneath that exterior boils a tempest, however: a passionate and rich society, filled with divisions and arguments, great problems and even greater ideas. Despite being our closest neighbours, many Americans are unaware that this country has nearly torn itself apart twice in the past three decades. We have dealt with our problems quietly and with dignity, refusing to air our dirty laundry on the world stage—a stage with so many pressing problems that we collectively believe take precedence over our struggles of internal identity and unity. We have weathered our internal storms by participating democratically and mobilizing our collective will to force the hand of the governments of the day.
I suppose if there is one thing I hope emerges from this election, it is a vigorous, emboldened cohort of young citizens. It is often assumed the men and women of our generation are disengaged from the sort of turbulent debates that characterized the preceding decades. The assumption that young Canadians are too insular and apathetic toward our national troubles and trials is neither necessarily true nor false. The rise of technology has changed the way communication works; we are the first generation to grow up with the Internet, and it is easy to misunderstand how we have come to exploit the powerful and still relatively new methods of interaction at our disposal. Consider the dramatic action being taken against oppressive governments in the Middle East: the use of texting and Twitter to achieve political objectives has been stunning to witness. Whatever the government decides to do.
With its newfound mandate, I hope they take this into consideration – the incredible potential technologically literate young Canadians have in their power.
So I encourage all young Canadians to take pride in their political system and participate in it. If the young people of today work to constructively scrutinize and criticize the government, any radical shift to our disadvantage can be quickly halted. Nothing poses a greater threat to unpopular uses of power than an informed and engaged citizenry. I don’t think Stephen Harper represents “the end of Canadian democracy” as some alarmists have long stated (life will go on without vote subsidies, after all), but rather a great opportunity to galvanize an apathetic young population to take notice of government policies and demand things like youth unemployment and the environment be addressed, as well as the issues, like pensions, that older voters tend to favour.
Whether you support or oppose the new government and its plans and policies, I hope you will speak out, discuss, evaluate and encourage others to do the same over the next five years. The democracy we will inherit, and the Canada we will eventually pass on to our own children, will only be stronger for it.
Harper to eliminate vote subsidies, CBC, April 1, 2011: