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Friday Mar 23rd - 2012
I was fortunate enough on Thursday night to join several students from the Political Science program at the University of Guelph where an event was hosted by The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. A range of topics were discussed from youth engagement, decorum within the House of Commons and low voter turnout within younger demographics. Joining Michael Chong was Mark Sholdice from the Young Liberal Group and the youngest MP to ever be elected from Sherbrooke, Quebec Pierre-Luc Dusseault from the New Democratic Party. Elected at only 19 years old.
What struck me immediately at this event was the instant respect that Michael showed all people in the room, including his colleague from across the isle in opposition to his government. When the opening statements were made, Pierre-Luc went first saying "Michael Chong is a great example of what someone should be like in politics. He wants to reform question period and to make changes that will make our government better".
When the question was posed about low voter turnout, Michael explained that Stats Can has released information indicating that the lowest voter turnout is between the ages of 18-34. And why is that? 30% said they weren't interested and that their vote wouldn't make a difference. Another 23% said they were just too busy. Michael offered his observations that "parliament should reflect our diversity more". He stated that "parliament is too controlled by leaders which create a sense that local representatives can't properly represent their constituents". "Restoring autonomy to how local representatives can have a real voice at parliament is vital". He also blamed increasing negative advertising, the current political culture and hyper partisanship that "confuses voters to the point of not being able to determine who's right and who's wrong".
Potential solutions to address the "I'm too busy to vote crowd" were to look at Australia. However, Michael was not in favour of mandatory voting where an individual would be fined if they didn't vote, but rather making voting day a national holiday. "Voting day becomes a family outing. He said. "With everything closed down, there is nothing more to do other then to vote". Part of Australia's high voter turnout of above 90% is due to this holiday. He agreed that the business community will cry foul about this option due to productivity ceasing, but countered that "our democracy should be more important to allow one day off every 4 years".
Michael also talked about the controlling nature of government. He advocates for more free votes and taking away the fear of repercussions and disciplinary measures imposed by party leaders if MP's don't vote the way they're told to. "Parliament sits 27 weeks a year with about 5 votes a week. Only 15 votes out of 135 are free votes".
Lastly, he encouraged those in attendance to get involved with the political process. "Too often, many get involved in other ways that don't directly impact decision makers. He said. "40% of every dollar is used by government and the remaining 60% is influenced in someway through policy. If you want to make a difference, get involved."
While driving home from the event, I couldn't help but look at what's wrong with politicians today. I came to several conclusions. Politicians should radiate respect for others when they walk into a room. They should identify and understand the problems faced by those they represent; they should provide thoughtful solutions after listening to those in need. Politicians need to engage in respectful dialogue to find common ground for the greater good. And, they should feel free to truly represent those that elect them.
Michael embodies these traits and Canada is fortunate to have someone like him making a difference for us all. We need to support other like-minded politicians that push for these positive changes.
Many years ago there was an old Nike advertising and marketing campaign that became a pop-culture phenomenon. It stated "Be Like Mike". I for one can't think of anyone else who inspires me like Michael Chong does. I too want to "Be Like Mike".