Empowering young Liberals

On Wednesday night, I was grateful to participate with my fellow presidential candidates in a fundraiser and debate organized by the University of Toronto Young Liberals. We had a great discussion about the role of youth in our party, and I thought that I would expand on that topic in this blog post.

I am proud that my riding of Kingston and the Islands has well over 300 Young Liberals, more than the total membership of many ridings! How have we done this? And what support do we need to provide to the Young Liberals in order to help them be successful?

I believe that the key to engaging youth, like other demographics such as aboriginals, women, seniors and ethnic communities is to empower them to contribute meaningfully to creating the kind of party they can best identify with. That means really listening to what they say, acting on what we hear and giving them scope to try out their ideas. The Young Liberals with whom I have worked are as politically and socially savvy as any other segment of the Party. They, like all our members, rapidly become disengaged when they recognize lip service and patronizing attitudes.

In my experience, youth are the fastest to jump at the chance to make a real difference – not just within the YLC, but within their riding associations and the larger Party. As National President, I would partner with them just like my riding did with the Queen’s University Liberal Association (QULA). That partnership and their resulting drive and determination produced fantastic results. The May 2nd election came at the worst possible time for university students – not only was the campaign during final exams, but the day of the vote itself was held the day after most Queen’s students leave town. Therefore, the odds were that most students would have been disenfranchised.

Together, we foresaw this problem and came up with a plan to beat it. QULA booked and we jointly staffed tables at Queens to encourage all students to vote at the advance polls. Seniors pitched in when the QULA students were in exams or studying and were available to drive those students who couldn’t make the advance polls to vote at the Elections Canada office. Seniors and students worked together to encourage students in cafeteria line-ups to go to the nearby advance polling station. As a result, the on-campus advance polls went overwhelming Liberal and provided a large chunk of our margin of victory over the Conservatives.

The voter turnout at the advance poll was much higher than usual, in part because in the previous election I had seen too many would-be Queen’s student voters having been discouraged by being unable to provide the proof-of-residence documentation required by Elections Canada, and decided to do something about it. Many months before the May election, I had arranged a meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer to which I invited a couple of QULA members who brought their available ID. As a direct result of that meeting, Elections Canada agreed to accept a Queen’s document which students could readily print off as proof of residence. This was just another example of how partnership, foresight, planning and attention to detail are part and parcel of creating winning conditions.

My platform is all about empowering members to get involved, bring their ideas forward and try them out. Far too often, we lose the potential volunteers who contact riding associations between elections because we don’t have anything for them to do at the time, and they never hear from us again. But when you’re actively engaging your community between elections, there will be lots of critical and meaningful work for Young Liberals and other volunteers to do. Some of those tasks provide great opportunities to be mentored by their senior fellow members on career-relevant activities. This is how we will grow people from supporters, to members, to leaders. And this is how young Liberals will make this their party.

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2 Responses to Empowering young Liberals

  1. Gary Martin says:

    Hi Ron, we have the distinct displeasure of not having a postsecondary institution in our riding, how would you go about engaging our youth when most of voting age are supporting us from afar at best?
    We have put out the following to our under 30 crowd (from Liberalist) members and supporters for their input.
    http://lkm.liberal.ca/2011/11/liberals-are-here-to-help.html
    I am thinking we need to get into the high schools but I am stumped at how to reach them as they tend to not allow non-sitting political parties into their civics classes.
    I also think we need to help those that are left in the riding to find meaningful employment and we have been individually messaging them with word of support.

    • Ron says:

      Hi Gary. I agree 100% with the approach that you set out in your posted message to young people. Our experience in Kingston demonstrates that getting involved with community activity and issues that matter to the community is the best way to attract and retain young Liberal volunteers (and everyone else, for that matter). I’ve been encouraging all the riding associations that I’ve visited in recent months to do exactly wheat you suggest.

      Getting to high-schoolers is a tough nut to crack, one that we haven’t solved as yet. One approach that comes to mind is to find someone of stature in your community who isn’t directly associated with the Liberal Party offer to speak to civics classes about the importance to their lives about voting, critical thinking and getting involved in the political process. He/she could hand out a contact list for all the parties in your community and you could be prepared to be the first and best to follow up, which would include inviting them to join a Liberal Youth club.

      A more traditional option would be to work through your members and their offspring to identify at least one student in each high school who would be willing to take an active role in creating and running a Liberal youth club. That could get around the main problem that I’ve found in getting a viable club going, which is that our high school youth members are only known and have influence in their own schools.

      Unfortunately, I’m too tied up in my current campaign to try out these ideas right now, but I intend to do so at the first opportunity.

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