History was made on November 17, when 19 year-old Sam Oosterhoff won the Niagara West-Glanbrook by-election, thus becoming the youngest member ever elected to Ontario Legislature. While I don’t share MPP Oosterhoff’s political opinions, his passion for political participation is commendable and I offer my sincere congratulations to him for putting his name forward as a candidate.
Too often, young people feel they are not part of the political process. We often tell young people they should vote after turning 18 but neglect to tell them to consider running as a candidate. While Millennials are possibly more aware of and engaged in a wide array of political and social issues than previous generations, it is not mirrored by their propensity to vote in elections. Running as a candidate for elected office is probably even further from mind. This is a terrible missed opportunity for them to help shape our political future – one which will affect them more than any other age group right now.
That is why I am inspired and hopeful when I meet young people who are politically engaged. For example, the incredible high school students who participate in my youth advisory group, the Oakville Provincial Youth Advisory Committee (OPYAC), constantly astound me with their level of interest in community, social, and political issues. They have tremendous insight and can do much today to influence the political legacy they will inherit tomorrow.
In fact, a former OPYAC member ran as a candidate in the 2014 provincial election. I was delighted to see that he remained politically engaged into his early 20s. It would be refreshing to see more young people actively participate in politics, whether running as a candidate, volunteering on campaigns, or even just voting in elections in greater numbers.
Our young people are first introduced to politics in the Grade 5 Civics course. I visit as many classes as my schedule allows and the enthusiasm of these bright young minds and their teachers is infectious. Even in Grade 5 they relish the prospect of making the world a better place through political involvement.
The pace of change both technically and socially is accelerating at an exponential pace. Young people think in a different way and they are far more adaptable to change and open to new ideas. Our parliaments, our boards, and our councils at all levels of government need them to be involved.
The responsibility does not lie solely on our young people to take up the challenge, however. Politicians, parents, and mentors of any type, have a role to play too by engaging young people on issues that matter to them and by encouraging them to add their voices to our political conversations. We should take every opportunity to ensure young people avail themselves fully of the democracy previous generations fought so hard to preserve.
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