Harper-examining journalist calls for millennials to get engaged

Michael Harris speaks at Dal about his book Party of One

“Stephen Harper is not Canada and Canada is not Stephen Harper,” Michael Harris said.

Speaking at Dalhousie on Tuesday, Harris, author of Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover, insisted that Canada’s prime minister should not be allowed to spend another term in office.

Local activist group Vote Harper Out – Halifax hosted Harris’ talk.

“We have to hold the next government’s feet to the fire on reversing some of the terrible big things like [Bill] C-51 and other things like that, like omnibus legislation,” says Harris.

Bill C-51 is a controversial anti-terrorism bill, made in to a law in June. Under C-51, those promoting terrorism can lead to up to five years in prison, and police will have more power to arrest without warrant.

“The next term of the next government, I think in large measure, is going to be fixing these things, if ever they can be fixed,” says Harris.

While the topic of changing government policies applies to all Canadians, the audience at Harris’ talk was composed of very few students.

“I want to express my worry that I think there are more people in this room closer to my age, closer to 67,” one audience member said during the question and answer period.

Violet Rosengarten, a member of Vote Harper Out – Halifax said the turnout at the talk was less than anticipated, and that she had expected to see a higher student turnout.

“I thought, or some of us thought, it would be more packed, and that there would be standing room only,” she said.

The group’s main is “to educate people, to inform people about what Harper has done and to give them a deeper understanding of it,” Rosengarten added. “So, it was an educational thing.”

Rosengarten also spoke about getting youth more engaged in the event and in politics in general.

“I really tried to give the young people a voice. Wherever I saw a young person who wanted to speak, I made sure that that person got the [microphone],” she said. “I really feel that they have to vote, even if it’s just to get rid of Harper.

“Even if you’re not enchanted with the other two leaders, it’s really important to get rid of this person who has really done so much damage to our democracy.”

During the question and answer period, Harris questioned why youth voter turnout is so low and spoke about the need for younger people and students to vote in the upcoming election.

Elections Canada reports that only 38.8 per cent of eligible voters (approximately 1.8 million people) age 18-24 cast ballots in the 2011 federal election. All other age groups had higher voter turn out.

“If they [millennials] seized the moment and they became interested in politics,” Harris said, “they could determine the results of the next election.”

Harris called for youth to realize the importance of political engagement, quoting the old adage “if you don’t take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you.”

“We’ve got to give something that catches up with [young people’s] technical reality,” Harris said. “If we could do something with their electronic reality of computers, I think we would take a giant step forward.”

The number of eligible voters this year under 24 years old is just under three million. “Youth,” however, is defined differently by some organizations and people, and can include ages up to early 30s.

Besides voting, ways to get engaged in the upcoming election include volunteering, meeting candidates, researching prominent issues, attending public events or listening to national debates.

Election day is October 19, but voting can also be done through advance polls. Eligible voters can call or visit Election Canada’s website to register or for more information.

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Bronwen McKie

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