Democracy Talks Dispatches: University students skip the party

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013 View Count = 1638

Democracy Talks Dispatches: University students skip the party

Democracy Talks is a community-based discussion series that brings people together to discuss politics and share ideas for improving civic and political engagement in Canada. Lately, we’ve been chatting with groups of youth and new Canadians about their experiences with politics and sharing their ideas and insights on our blog.  

Now introducing….Bryce Geeraert

Occupation: Studying neuroscience at University of Saskatchewan
A bit of backstory: Has been involved with Engineers without Borders for three years.
Where we met: On campus at the University of Saskatoon for one of the 16 talks we held with EWB. 
What we talked about: The end of political parties

There's a common narrative that “youth today” put more value on volunteering and community involvement than they do on politics. Yet the students we met at the University of Saskatoon, while deeply involved with the volunteer work of Engineers Without Borders, certainly valued the role of government. Bryce Geeraert, a student and long-time volunteer put it this way:

        “While I do feel that I can personally make the most of my abilities through
         personal interactions with others, I would argue that much greater change will be
         brought about through the political system.”

Given his strong feelings about the influence of politics, we were somewhat surprised when we asked the group for their visions of an ideal democracy and Bryce bluntly answered, “I think (I’d like to see) dissolution of the party system in general …I don’t think it’s a very good way of representing your constituents.”

The other students in the room weren’t taken aback. None of them – engaged, educated, passionate – were members of political parties. It didn’t seem like they ever planned on joining parties either. They added:

       “As far as membership, why would I have to be a member really? I’m happy to
        support somebody, but I don’t feel that I have to be in the club.”

       "The parties are so big...when you join that you are a very small fish in a big sea
        and (only) the loudest have the most say."

       "I think we're disconnected from the party atmosphere. I've never felt so connected
        to a party, but I've felt connected to individuals...That would probably keep me
        from being a card-carrying [party member]."

Bryce said he specifically feels that “the political party… is a barrier blocking constituents from connecting more directly with their MP.” Still, he admitted that it would take plenty of time and thought to recreate our democratic system without parties. Until then, he says, he’d just like politics to catch up with the times.

      “It's not a stretch to say the way political parties in Canada currently operates is
       based on a technologically outdated precedent. Parties kind of act as a middle
       man, the voter chooses the party that will make decisions they want the
       government to make ... But current technology gives users a whole new way to
       interact directly, and it could do so in the political sphere as well.”

Bryce and his classmates’ disinterest in joining political parties isn’t an anomaly. In fact, Samara just finished writing a full report for Elections Canada on the changing relationship between youth and political parties in Canada.

On Thursday we'll share some highlights from that report. Given that, as Bryce noted, political parties are an integral part of our current democratic system, we'll also share some information on how to join one, and what you can do to if you want to improve politics from the inside.

On the Samara BlBlog logo representing the letter 'o'g