Young people have a place in politics

Helping young people understand the power they have to effect change in their communities was the focus of Local Democracy Week, hosted at Queen’s Park in Toronto in November 2010.

Marc Kielburger and Daniel Francavilla at LDW 2010

Local activist Louroz Mercader, founder of the Institute for Youth Citizenship (IYC) who created the event, recapped the day as a “meaningful dialogue between future voters and our elected officials”. Not only are students educated on how our local democracy system functions, but through this event they are “breaking down the somewhat intimidating barriers in the political process,” explains Mercader.

Speakers included Ontario’s Minister of Education and Minister of Children and Youth Services, in addition to keynotes by Free the Children’s Marc Kielburger and Michel Chikwanine. Voter Turnout addressed by the Chief Election Officer and petitions were led by the Legislative Assembly Clerk.

Mercader admits that he wishes he “had something like this in high school”.

With their many roles and responsibilities, politicians today should actively seek youth input. Although young people form a significant portion of the population, they are often under-represented. Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children and CEO of social enterprise Me to We, believes that leaders can be influenced by their youngest constituents. However, he states, “Politicians greatly affect youth, but youth don’t necessarily affect politicians.”

One reason for this is that the issues many politicians choose to focus on do not directly relate to young people. Like the organizers of this event, Kielburger believes that this should, and can, change.

Passionate politicians and active citizens are key to democracy. Politics is not only a career – it is a service opportunity.

As part of the Local Democracy Week program, several Members of Provincial Parliament of Ontario participated in “Political Speed-Dating”, where students had a chance to rotate between elected officials to ask questions directly.

Kuldip Kular, MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale, shared that he strongly believes youth should be partaking in the democratic process. “From the beginning, people today are getting disengaged,” he states. However Kular explains that this event’s format and open dialogue with youth is a great way to participate in democracy and encourages active involvement from youth, stating, “Democracy is not just in Queen’s Park”.

With many elected officials open to participating in youth-focused events like Local Democracy Week, and citizens getting involved within the democratic process at a young age, today’s youth are developing as the leaders of tomorrow – by taking action today.

View the published version of this article online at Global Voices.