Young people in Ontario are too often underrepresented and underserved by political parties. As the largest bloc of working-age people in the province — yes, you read that right — this is a big problem.
Fewer than half the voters under 25 voted in the last federal election, higher than any other demographic. Meanwhile, the last Ontario election had the lowest turnout ever.
It is easy to blame apathy on those who don’t show up to the polls. But young adults across Canada are volunteering more, participating in protests and donating to causes they believe in. They just don’t believe in politics as the vehicle to make a difference.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
But it’s going to take a new generation of leaders to show that politics can be done differently, that it’s the best way to drive change and that the answer is participation.
First, how we practise politics has to change.
Less partisan rhetoric, more honesty and authenticity.
Less centralization, more grassroots engagement and accountability.
We should be united in our values of competence, compassion and integrity, and we should all keep the promises we make at election time. But thoughtful and principled disagreement should also be encouraged because it is the only way we improve our parties and politics.
Young people just don’t believe in politics as the vehicle to make a difference. It doesn't have to be that way. writes Nate Erskine-Smith @beynate @OntLiberal #ontario #onpoli
More than anything, we need to include young people in our decision-making.
I ran for my local Liberal nomination at the age of 29, motivated by a commitment to generational and grassroots renewal. Since then, young people have always played a meaningful role in my work.
And I will take the same approach to this new challenge of running for Ontario Liberal leader.
Of course, generational change matters most if it leads to positive change for the next generation. Serious renewal depends on how we act and what we can accomplish.
Young people are rightly furious and frustrated about their inability to buy a home or find an affordable place to live. It took five years of full-time work to save a 20 per cent down payment on an average-priced home in 1976. Now it takes 22 years across Ontario, and 27 years in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
It’s not only a generational fairness challenge, it’s a challenge to our economic productivity. Understandably, young people are leaving home communities and our province because they can’t afford to live here.
Here in Ontario, housing and infrastructure haven’t kept pace with population growth because politicians have chosen their short-term electoral benefit over the long-term public interest.
And the same holds true in other areas that particularly affect young people, whether it’s the absence of serious climate action, the underinvestment in child care and education or the refusal to tackle wealth inequality.
On all of these issues and more, the best way to make a difference is through politics. That’s how we change laws, deliver spending where it’s needed, ensure people pay their fair share and build a society and an economy that works for everyone.
And if you want better from our politics, the answer is participation.
No party is perfect. But it’s through participation that we bring our politics closer to where we want it to be.
Too many young people who care deeply about public policy feel politically homeless. At the same time, the Ontario Liberal Party only has seven seats at Queen’s Park and is in desperate need of grassroots and generational renewal.
Rebuilding the party will take hard work. But there is a huge opportunity through this leadership process to shape our politics and be a part of positive change.
We found success federally in 2015 by engaging and including young people in our politics. And if we are to find renewed success in Ontario, that is exactly what we need to do.
Politics, for all of its faults, is the most important way we can make a positive difference in the lives of those around us. And there is no better time than now to get involved and deliver the generational change we need here in Ontario — for our party and our province.
Nate Erskine-Smith is the MP for Beaches-East York and a candidate for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.