So I’ll be honest right off the bat — I’m a millennial. Yes, I’m a part of that “doomed” generation full of smart young people who largely still work in customer service despite our degrees, our ideas and our experience. We’re your kids, your baristas, your bloggers and your Facebook friends.
We millennials in Canada, the U.S. or the U.K. were born into the neoliberal era. While our parents lived through the heyday of the social welfare state, millennials were born into a time when corporate tax cuts, privatization and deregulation were (and are) the policies du jour.
To us, Pierre Trudeau is just another name.
To us, Stephen Harper is the person still working hard to dismantle Canadian civil society.
We’re used to reports of a crumbling education system, struggling young people and families, rising tuition fees and massive student debt, transit issues and deregulation disasters.
When you actually pause to examine all these phenomena in Canadian politics, it’s a little overwhelming — especially with the next federal election a little over a year away.
So, I did what any sensible millennial would: I turned to social media and asked my Facebook friends and Twitter community to share their thoughts on Canadian politics.
The response indicated overwhelmingly that young people in Canada are feeling disillusioned by party politics to the point that a lot of them aren’t even bothering to vote.
One friend said he felt more accomplished cleaning up the community gardens in his neighbourhood than he does voting. Another said that, for him, federal politics died with Jack Layton (RIP).
Yet another friend related how she feels a kinship with the Green Party, but is disheartened because they are so far from being elected in her riding.
So where does that leave us? How do we move forward?
If some millennials aren’t voting because they’re tired of party politics, how can they become engaged and vote on the issues they care about?
And, contrary to popular opinion, millennials do care about things! Social welfare, education and social justice, to name a few.
However, it seems that a lot of millennials find a common thread on environmental issues. They want to take care of the environment so that it isn’t utterly destroyed by the time we’re older.
Even my most politically ambivalent friends recognize that climate change is real and affecting us. Polar ice caps are melting, the Canadian government is closing down labs in the north and Harper is muzzling scientists in Canada from speaking out about it.
I definitely believe voting in candidates who truly take the environment to heart is an important first step in fighting climate change and environmental disaster!
Think of the Walkerton tragedy in Ontario in 2000, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Lac Megantic disaster in Quebec in 2013. The common trend here is deregulation — when the government lets the private sector regulate itself.
Deregulation led to water becoming contaminated with E. coli in Walkerton, Ontario, resulting in seven deaths and many people becoming seriously ill.
Deregulation led to the tragedy in Lac Megantic, Quebec because just one person was left to oversee the parking of a huge freight train. The savings for the MMA rail company clearly were not worth the 47 deaths and the destruction.
Deregulation is causing the loss of lives, endangering our homes and effecting our environment.
So how do we reverse this downward spiral of deregulation, environmental negligence and dismantling of our civil society? How can we make sure we still have clean drinking water, pensions and public health care when we millennials are in our 60s?
I believe we have work ahead of us for years to come, but I also believe that the first step is to educate ourselves on the candidates who will be running for office next year. We need to vote and have our voices heard on that stage.
We don’t have to take to the streets, but we should support those who do. And if you do want to show your political stripes with more than simply voting, you will find a sense of community among others who are also fighting for civil society and social and environmental justice.
We need to show that we’re not just kids, baristas, bloggers and Facebook friends — young Canadians can be a force in Canadian politics that is much needed right about now.
Katrina Orlowski is a writer and filmmaker living in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @kxtrinasarah