The Backbencher ; Taking all of the mindless psychobabble that comes out of the House of Commons, and providing critical analysis on the important bits.
We get it; the 4 McGill students elected as MPs in 2011 were a young and inexperienced bunch. Rookie MPs that were politically wet behind the ears was also a signal that maybe our House of Commons was not simply a playground for 50 year old white lawyers to yell obscenities at each other. Reporters across the nation were filled with glee as articles were written and flashbulbs flashed.
Fast forward 2 years, and after all the glitz and glam of being elected these McGillians have had to, you know, govern. So after swapping nights at Gerts for the wild and anything-goes atmosphere of Committee meetings and thrilling marathon votes in the House, how have these young MPs fared so far?
In many respects they have impressed. Each of them have managed to hold their own in Question Period, and have been handed a moderate amount of responsibility by the NDP. The 20 year old Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Though not from McGill) is the chair for the Ethics committee, Matthew Dubé and Charmaine Borg have critic portfolios (Sport and Digital Issues) and Laurin Liu is Deputy critic for Science and Technology. Titles aside, what has been most impressive has been the strong relations each of them have built with their constituencies. Dusseault was going door-to-door only 2 months after being elected (can you say eager beaver?) while Liu dedicates a Saturday morning every month to answering questions from people in her community. Freeman (featured in photo), Dube and Borg are equally well known around their ridings for being active, available and receptive. Finally, Charmaine Borg should be applauded for fighting tooth and nail to save Katimavik, an organization which provides young Canadians the opportunity to volunteer across the country, from budget cuts announced in 2012.
But it must be said, they have not done enough to show themselves as unique , nor have they attracted more youth to politics. I’m not asking them to dance around and film a Harlem Shake video (though that would be hilarious), just to be more exciting and to be themselves, ultimately. In some ways you can’t really blame them. Being thrust into an alien and high-stakes environment has forced them to quickly adapt and fit into the cookie cutter mould of how to be a competent MP, and at that they have all succeeded mightily. But that’s the very problem, you either fit in or you stand out, and none of them have been brave enough to stand out. We all demand professionalism, integrity and a respect for Parliament from all MPs but that does not mean that politics has to be boring. If these MPs want to engage more youth (as they have all stated) than its time to throw out the talking points sent from the party and start acting like themselves. I dare them to be exuberant, put themselves on the same level as the rest of the youth, to make mistakes and to step on toes. These were bright, energetic, politically active and passionate students before they were elected. It sure would be a shame if winning a seat meant leaving these qualities at the door and turning into the boring automatons that tend to dominate the House.
Overall, I don’t see a need to romanticize or demonize their performance to date. At the midpoint of the 41st Parliament the youngsters have had time to find their feet and have done well, but they have yet to leave their footprints and make their mark. Considering the Canadian youth are interested in politics about as much as they are in watching paint dry, the McGillians better get to it.
photo credits davehuehn some rights reserved, flickr Creative Commons