Want to reach youth? Engage them

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Considering the number of times I’ve heard the provincial NDP and federal Liberal election wins blamed on young voters, you’d think more conservative minded people would try to engage young adults and youth in the political process.

It’s one of the major concerns I’ve heard from voters at any political event I’ve attended as a member of the media. “How do we get young people to vote conservative?” “How do we get young adults to the polls?” “How do we get youth involved in politics?”

How about start with acknowledging the younger generation is equally as capable of making smart decisions that better the country as any other generation is?

I thought the defeat of both the federal and provincial levels of conservatives signalled a need to engage youth and young voters, to become more open to diversity and cut ties with “the old boys club.” For the most part, it seems there is an effort from the actual politicians themselves, but it appears that neither the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) nor the United Conservative Party (UCP) has managed to rid themselves entirely of the very arrogance that played a role in their 2015 demises.

Having lived in Central Alberta my entire life, I know a lot of people who hold memberships in political parties, some of whom are more engaged than others. Since the last election, I’ve seen a lot more youth try to become engaged, volunteering with campaigns, becoming party members, and even in some cases become part of electoral riding and district associations.

For the middle school or high school student, such opportunities can only be invaluable experiences, not only keeping them out of trouble and off their Xboxes for awhile, but in networking and perhaps discovering career opportunities they’d never considered before.

And yet, it’s those very people that are subtly being told they don’t matter as much as the older crowds.

I know a couple of such youth. Both are under the age of 18, and hold memberships in both the CPC and UPC. The older of the two sits on one of those electoral district boards and has for three years. Not once have they missed a meeting. When it comes time for board members to hold a function for members, however, they’re not invited because they’re holding the function at a bar that doesn’t allow minors.

Sure, they’re old enough to do the work, give up personal time to volunteer their time for the party, but when it comes to functions that serve as rewards or compensation for their time, sorry, you’re not invited – but hey, we’ll host a family function you can pay to attend while we go to the one that supposed to be for everyone for free.

The same goes for a number of meet and greets that have been held in Red Deer with big name political party leaders and members. They’ve all been held at the Toad n’ Turtle, and young politically-minded people have not been allowed to attend.

I understand they’re not yet of voting age, but they will be. What sort of message does that send to youth who want to be engaged in politics and bettering the community, province and country? If they’re old enough to hold a membership, be part of a campaign or some sort of constituency association, then the party events should be welcoming of those younger age groups.

If Devin Dreeshen can find an election party spot that accommodates minors, then so can everyone else.

Why, after all, would a young voter want to vote for a party that basically tells them no matter how much work they do, they don’t matter as much as older voters? Or that they only matter when they can cough up money and bring mommy and daddy to an event because no one wants to talk with and engage millennials and post-millennials?

I’m not going to blame the politicians themselves on this one, but I am going to point the finger at those working behind the scenes.

You want your party to win? You seriously want to gain the youth and young adult vote? Treat them fairly. Engage them just as you would any other group.

Otherwise, there’s other parties out there who are already doing so and doing it much better.