Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

A Dialogue on Youth and Democracy

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

A Dialogue on Youth and Democracy

Article excerpt

Voter turnout among the general population in Canadian federal elections has declined over the past twenty years. This problem is particularly acute among young people. Recognizing the need to more effectively address this issue at the federal level, several federal entities responsible for youth programmes including the Department of Canadian Heritage, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Department of Justice, Elections Canada, the Governor General's Office, the Library of Parliament, and the National Capital Commission, began discussing opportunities for greater collaboration on the topic of youth civic and democratic engagement. On September 25, 2009 the Library of Parliament invited leading figures from these federal entities, and from the private and nongovernmental sectors to participate in a day-long session on the topic of youth civic and democratic participation. This article looks at some of the themes that emerged from the workshop as well as the recommendations.

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To be sure, discussions at this forum did not result in a definitive analysis of the issue of youth civic and democratic engagement. Indeed, a number of participants expressed conflicting points of view, and many conversations ended with the conclusion that the topic is far too complex to be understood without further research, and certainly not in a single day of moderated discussions. Nevertheless the Dialogue Session served as a window into the current Canadian approach to this topic, inasmuch as it revealed how Canada's leaders in this field define the problem, and how they believe that it can be addressed. (1)

The Trends

When asked which trends characterise youth civic and democratic engagement in Canada, participants focused primarily on four themes. First, while young people are less likely than previous generations to engage with formal political institutions and processes by, for example, voting in a federal election or joining a political party, youth are by no means disengaged from their communities. Youth are active participants in non-traditional political activities, such as social justice and environmental organizations, international development projects, and online petitions and fora. At the same time, young people often do not understand how these activities might be brought to bear on the policy processes led by legislators and governments. Some participants suggested that nontraditional engagement may lead to traditional forms of engagement. Others suggested that youth direct their limited time and political capital to venues that they feel are most relevant to their needs and interests, and most likely to be receptive to their input.

In addition, participants suggested that the current generation of young people do not face the same set of options and expectations as did previous generations. Life transitions, such as completing school, getting married, or starting .a family, are all happening later in life, as individuals lengthen the time between completing education and settling into a stable career and family situation. As a result, conclusions about earlier cohorts of young people should not necessarily shape programmes and policies directed at today's youth. Similarly, participants discussed the need for youth engagement efforts to address the growing demographic of young singles and young couples under the age of thirty who do not yet have children, and who focus primarily on career building. Studies demonstrate that this group, which currently comprises 10% of the Canadian population, is the least civically and democratically engaged compared to students, families with children at home and mature singles and couples. Since the bulk of youth engagement strategies focus on students specifically, this highly disengaged group is under-researched and inadequately addressed by existing strategies that equate the term "youth" with "student", a characterisation that is increasingly outdated. …

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