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Young Canadians need to be engaged in politics – but social media isn’t enough

The Peace Tower and a Canadian flag are seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

This is a response to Tuesday's opinion piece: "The time for young political leadership in Canada is now"

Now is not an especially important time for youth in politics. Now is the time for young people to meaningfully engage with meaningful communities. On that note, social media is not generally a meaningful community. The authors' glib comment that social media carries the same force as an airborne division is not only erroneous, it is naïve.

Facebook did not overthr ow Libya. Fighters on the ground (backed by Western air power) did. Egypt's revolution came because the boots on the ground chose not to defend the existing regime. In counterpoint, Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war, and the massive web appeal to apprehend the African warlord Kony resulted in noise, but no action.

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Social media does have a certain power, but it is overstated. Similarly, my generation's conviction that our technological prowess is somehow immensely valuable is founded on falsehood. The majority of us are merely consumers of the vast and wonderful network that is the Internet. Yes, we can navigate quickly and display a faculty with computers, but that advantage is of questionable value, as surely the next generation will outpace us just as quickly as we outpaced the last.

The relevant professional skillset now, as it was then, is critical analysis and the ability to express oneself.

Unless Canadian society takes a page from Logan's Run, eliminating anyone over 30, the youth vote will only ever exist in the context of an intergenerational society. Politicians of all stripes must appeal to a wide range of age brackets. A plurality, not just his or her own demographic, elects politicians.

It is true, however, that my generation is largely apathetic about politics in general. And that is a problem. Not just because we silence our own voice, but also because there are important questions in the foreseeable future, and Canada is going to need an informed electorate to emerge undamaged.

Constitutional negotiations, as dry as some may find them, underpin most of these problems. The division of powers between federal and provincial governments, in conjunction with their differing revenue raising capabilities, will no doubt be a subject of considerable importance. Further, any movement towards even a quasi-independent Quebec will likely prompt calls for similar treatment in other provinces, notably the West. This is by no means a bad thing, and may provide much needed policy space to experiment with programs like healthcare.

Once the constitution has been opened however, it will be nearly certain that Aboriginal policies will quickly move to the forefront. Again, this is not a negative development, and Canada is past due for a frank discussion on how to work together with the Aboriginal community to build a healthy and viable nation into the future.

Which brings us back to the concept of community. Meaningful community. These can be found everywhere people gather for some positive reason. These are the places young people need to be. There is little merit in young politicians who have no vested interest in the people they intend to represent. Instead, we should be out exploring the world and ourselves. Making friends, making enemies and carving our own little place in the sun.

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So before the calls go out for young people to step forth into the bright lights of politics, let us build ourselves up a little bit, see a bit of the world, get a stake in it, then go fight for a better Canada.

Griff James is a graduate student in public management at the London School of Economics.

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