MONTREAL (CUP) — If you’re a young person, Bob Rae wants to hear what you have to say — but you need to step up and say it. And no, he won’t reveal whether he’ll be running to be the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Rallying the youth vote was Rae’s goal as he capped off a five-day tour of Quebec on the cusp of the opening of Parliament with a stopover at Concordia University on Jan. 27. More than 50 students and supporters packed the room to hear Rae, who had been invited by Concordia’s Political Science Students’ Association and Liberal Concordia.
One student asked Rae how he planned to recruit students, despite the low youth voter turnout rate.
“How long is it going to take for you guys to tell us what your vision is?” responded Rae. “Why are you waiting for me to tell you why you should participate in politics?”
Rae went on to add: “I think a lot of it has to do with how the baby boom generation takes up a lot of space,” he said. “This is not a generation that is uninvolved; this is a generation that says, ‘I don’t hear you talking about the things that matter to me’.”
One Concordia professor wanted to know how Rae felt about the differing quality and budget for education across the provinces.
While committing to giving students opportunities and focusing on research and development, Rae had critical words for the Canada student loans program — saying it’s “not particularly good,” at times inaccessible, and should not turn a profit — and apprenticeship programs. “Not enough support,” he said.
And while he acknowledged that the federal government does not dictate tuition rates, Rae said he is open to advice: “I want us to be talking to university and college campuses and apprenticeship programs and everywhere that people are involved in learning experiences, and say, ‘How can we help?’”
But if the turnout at the last Liberal convention is any indication, young Liberals are trying to make their presence felt in the former “natural governing party” that was decimated in the last federal election.
The biennial convention, which took place in Toronto Jan. 13–15, was attended by over 3,000 delegates, about a third of whom were under 25. Three out of five candidates for the job of national policy chair fit into that age bracket: Braeden Caley, Ryerson student Daniel Lovell and the youngest of the bunch, Zach Paikin, 20, who was present at the Jan. 27 talk. But the winning candidate was Maryanne Kampouris, who was born in 1956.
At the convention, party delegates decided to legalize and regulate marijuana, as well as instituting a preferential ballot system for elections.
But it’s clear the party still has some soul-searching to do.
When one student asked if it was time for the party to adopt a new manifesto of ideals, Rae responded: “Probably, it is.”
While admitting that the party needs to go back to the drawing board on its policies and ideas, Rae emphasized that they are not “really lost” but are instead refining their position to not be simply based on opposition to Stephen Harper or on legacies left by other politicians.
“We’re saying, think for yourselves; and if you want somebody else to think for you, you have two other parties you can go to,” he said. “Our party is different.”
Rae left after an hour, leaving Montreal members of Parliament Justin Trudeau, Francis Scarpaleggia and Marc Garneau to take up the question period and answer the question of whether the “Bob Rae” bounce, or the Liberals’ bump in support in recent polls, will last.
“I think a tremendous amount of credit needs to go to Bob,” said Trudeau. “He’s been a very strong leader.”
But while there has been a small upturn in support, all three agreed more work needs to be done.
“I like to compare the Liberal Party to a body [that] was wheeled on a gurney into an ER, and they had to put the paddles to us,” said Garneau. “I would say today that the Liberal Party has a heartbeat. It’s not ready to get up out of bed, we’re still intravenous. We’ve got a heck of a long way to go, and we know it.”