Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Young Guns Need Live Ammo 

Kevin Skrepnek would like to see a formal youth wing in the Conservative Party. Being at the age of 17, I don't blame him. But I wonder whether such a move would have undesired side-effects.

In a Calgary Herald article last year, Nigel Hannaford wrote about the Conservatives' impressive young caucus (the party has the most under-30 MPs). The experiences of Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Harrison explain why the young and right might be better served without official party recognition:

For one thing, the Conservatives don't believe in sandboxes, as young conservatives derisively speak of the Liberal and NDP youth organizations. For another, the Conservatives -- unlike the Liberals -- have an open nomination process in the ridings with little interference from the party leadership. (Compared to, say, Dhalla, to whom Martin handed a safe seat uncontested, as part of his parachute dream-team.)

Harrison: "Older people in other parties push you to the youth wing. Our people say, 'Go for it, run for any position you think you can handle.' Nobody has ever said, 'You can't do this, you're not old enough.' "

He would know. Turned on to politics in his second year at the University of Alberta by Matthew Johnston, one-time executive assistant to Edmonton Conservative MP Jaffer, he has held every position in his riding association, was president of the campus Alliance club, and sat on the Alliance National Council: "Two years ago, I met Stephen Harper and he encouraged me to go after the nomination. That was a huge boost to have him give me a nod."
Free Dominion has a thread on this issue, and the general consensus is that the best way to involve youth is to let them work with the real system and not a "sandbox", as they put it.

Recalling my own volunteering on the James Moore campaign in Election 2000 (when I, too, was 17 years old), I believe that a youth wing in the Alliance would not have been much of a plus in rallying the campaign or enhancing my own experience. I worked with the campaign because I was a part of a group of young students who believed in the CA's principles, but we didn't need any guidance from above. And being able to campaign with someone that we can relate to, being not that much older than we were (seven years), was what made the campaign truly interesting. If the CA had a youth wing then, it would be a lot less likely that James would've had the experience or confidence to run as MP; yet today James is the Tories' Public Works critic.

To be fair, it's totally possible that I would've agreed with Shrepnek back in the day, and I don't think that a party youth wing is necessarily a bad thing. After all, Conservative membership is open to anyone aged 14 years or above: I imagine that it'd be easier for someone in Grade 8 to have some sort of support structure when being introduced to the party. But I don't think that it should go anywhere past federal voting age (18). Then it just gets condescending.

UPDATE (Dec 01, 09:40 AM): Turns out that we're on the same page after all. Not clear if the YesToYouth.com guys feel the same.
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