Youth leaders from all the major parties except the Conservatives gathered at Humber College Thursday to debate issues affecting the youth voter demographic directly.
Participants in the debate included Alexander Cohen, director of communications for the Ontario Young Liberals, Natalie Petra, director of communications for the Young New Democrats and Matthew Casselman, president of the Green Party of Ontario.
Despite weeks of pursuing the Conservative party at their federal and provincial offices, as well as contacting campaign leaders across the GTA, Humber News was not given access to a youth representative for the debate.
“We wanted to engage students in the democratic process and we thought that by bringing youth leaders to campus, this would give that student voice to issues that matter to millennial,” said Christina Romualdo, co-organizer of the event and election coverage at Humber News.
The event was organized by Humber News and livestreamed in collaboration with the Broadcast and Television program, as well as 96.9 Radio Humber. The event moderator was Katherine Green, co-producer of the newsroom’s TV coverage of the federal elections.
“The reason why young people are disenfranchised by traditional parties is because they don’t feel that members of parliament have the opportunity to represent them or speak for them,” said Green representative Matt Casselman. “In fact, they’re just puppets who are advocating whatever they’re told.”
The three participants faced off on a number of issues that affect young voters directly, including youth unemployment, student debt, lack of affordable housing, environmental issues, minority issues and even marijuana laws.
“Not all drugs are going to be sold at Mac’s Milk if they’re legalized,” Casselman said, who went further than the other participants in calling for the decriminalization of all drugs.
“It’s no secret” the Liberal party supports the full legalization of weed, Cohen said, while Petra said her party supports “full decriminalization” as a step towards eventual legalization.
On the topic of affordable housing, the debate turned into a proxy war for the Liberals’ Adam Vaughan and NDP’s Olivia Chow, two star candidates in Spadina-Fort York with social housing credentials referenced by Cohen and Petra respectively.
Each candidate took turns swinging at Harper’s proposed niab ban at citizenship ceremonies. Petra did not mince words when she referred to the prime minister’s “racist rhetoric.”
Most of the party representatives conceded that they were all progressive on the issues that appealed to the voter base, and often criticized the Harper government for draconian policies that alienated minority voters.
Petra lambasted Harper’s Fair Elections Act, saying it discourages young people from voting.
She vowed an NDP government would repeal what she called the “Unfair Elections Act.”
Cohen said young people are discouraged from getting politically engaged by the divisiveness of modern political discourse.
“They see a political world that is increasingly dominated by division, fear, meanness and attack ads. As a young person getting involved in politics, it’s not very appealing.”