What do you want Canada to be? This is the question 10 student journalists posed to their campus communities. They interviewed hundreds of students on 10 campuses, then produced in-depth investigations into how Canada could start to realize these visions. What did they learn? That despite all the stereotypes of disengaged millennials, young people have a lot to say about the future of our country. Explore the 10-part series from the Possible Canadas fellowship about how we, as a country, can get to that future.
Millions of young people across Canada pour out of Elections Canada-branded party buses into elementary schools, community centres and churches. As pulsing electronic beats echo in the background, they file into the buildings laughing, patting each other on the backs and exchanging flirty glances. It is October 2035 and everyone is arriving to vote in the 47th Canadian general election.
How times have changed. In October 2015, the newly-formed federal government announced that it was revoking the citizenship of the Toronto Blue Jays following their failure to win the World Series, lest they ever bring shame to the Great White North again. The team resettled just across the border in Buffalo. When the prime minister-designate first sent the team packing, sports fans grumbled. But the anger quickly turned into massive public outcry, especially among the younger generation who was already disillusioned with a political system that paid them no heed. How could the government pass such an arbitrary, undemocratic decree and fail to back down?
This was the beginning of the end for the old way of doing things in Ottawa. The youth-led changes prompted by the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season would have far-reaching consequences for the nation. A country previously known as the peacekeepers of the world was increasingly involved in violent conflict. Despite having a reputation for welcoming refugees with open arms, the nation had started turning them away. Youth were fed up with the gulf between their image of what Canada should be and its reality, and the government’s arrogance during the Great Baseball Expulsion of 2015 was the last straw.
In response to a groundswell of youth activism demanding inclusion in the political process, the government saw fit to provide a transportation subsidy to every Canadian who needed help getting to a polling station. The party buses are just a small sign of the change — a way of encouraging first-time voters to get into the habit. Election day people-watchers observe Canadians arriving by bicycle, Vespa, scooter and even pogo stick to the polling stations. The goal is to increase accessibility, hence the bikes and mopeds, but some with a sense of humour and with more dexterity than the average voter opt for exotic modes of transportation.
Billboards promoting panel discussions on UFOs at the University of Alberta or on the benefits of an all-spinach diet at University of British Columbia are now the norm. Universities and community centres around the country now host dialogues, events and other opportunities for young people to directly engage with national issues. But who is to say what a national issue is? The bureaucracy remains intact, which means sometimes the gears of government turn slowly, but anyone who is patient enough to go through the application process can secure a venue and a small budget for speaker honorariums and promotional materials. Applicants tend to come from the universities and community organizations, but a fair share of wacky panels make their way through this process too.
The effort to stimulate national dialogue is easier because of the hip, dynamic veneer of much-improved provincial education systems. Most curricula teach students how to inform themselves about issues facing their country and constructively engage in the political process. Students who once played “Cops and Robbers” now play “Government Accountability Non-Profits and Corrupt Politicians.” High school students gush in the hallways over the latest statements released by various political activists, while middle-aged Canadians binge-watch reruns of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
When I approach Ming, a student at Napier High, he has no interest in chatting about music. “Did you hear what David Suzuki Jr. said about the updated Trans Pacific Partnership?” he asked. He would not drop the subject. Ming’s obsession is an example of the latest trend among youth, who now cycle between philosophical orientations rather than searching for the hottest fashion fads: “John was carrying on today about how he thinks postmodernism has outgrown its usefulness in analyzing modern Canadian society — but that’s just because he saw that documentary last week,” Ming said, rolling his eyes.
It is easy to see how the changes in primary and secondary education affect higher education in Canada. Engaged student bodies force universities to take the voices of students seriously. Consultation processes on issues from new teaching methods to campus construction to tuition and fee adjustments are now truly driven by student perspectives. Students are able to offer meaningful feedback that has opened the ivory tower to a diverse background of Canadians. That change leads to some incongruous sights: the president of Simon Fraser University turning up on Twitter wearing a lampshade on his head during a late-night tuition consultation with students fuelled by university-subsidized beer, for example. As forestry classes once held tutorials in forests, sociology classes have now moved into the urban jungle, with professors fighting for their classes’ attention above the din of clanging tracks and buskers during “subway lecture” series. Varsity athletic practice has turned into physical therapy clinics for elderly Canadians, with bulging football players helping little grandmothers through their morning routines.
Meanwhile, new energy company employees have moved their companies from coal mining to data mining, hoping their aging bosses won’t notice the difference between the two forms of extraction. Individual Canadians have likewise taken it upon themselves to speed up the green revolution — sometimes literally. With households required to install some kind of sustainable energy source, solar panels and windmills now speckle residential neighbourhoods. More creative types have come up with their own solutions, installing treadmills at their office desks to power computers and hooking their home gyms up to the electricity grid so that every pull on the elliptical machine contributes to a kilowatt of clean energy. The only downside to this plan is that it is only as renewable as the user’s tolerance for exercise.
After a concerted effort, and with educated and engaged citizens, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians was inevitable. Through a process unique in the so-called Western world, the federal government, working with public institutions across the country, followed a path laid out by First Nations communities to find solutions and correct past injustices. This process started with one of the most pressing and long-delayed issues: a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Canada broke down walls between “Aboriginal issues” and Canadian ones, and mainstream history curricula across the country now treat colonialism as a permanent, horrible part of Canadian history. These improvements are not, however, all about shining a light on the dark corners of society. With Aboriginal knowledge incorporated into standard teaching, schools bring out the work of authors and philosophers in new and exciting ways.
With all this change, one might think that voting in federal elections is a bit beside the point. But, returning to the party bus, we can see that all this change has also impacted the broken electoral system. A congress of young Canadians broke down the prominence of centralized parties with uplifting rhetoric and savvy campaign tactics. They reformed the system around an easily understandable slate of issues.
After elaborately studying voting habits and psychological biases, a team of experts refined tools like the Voter Compass with one tweak. Instead of filling out the survey online, members of the public show up to the polling station and are interviewed by a team working off a centralized rubric. The team engage them in conversation about their likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams.
Health Canada once intervened when people started describing these intimate election day chats as “therapeutic.”
They were, in fact, voting.
Most walk out of the room not knowing who they have cast their ballots for, but the process erased much of the poisonous rhetoric out of politics. The Marijuana Party has seen an uptick in support from some traditionally conservative corners of Canada, and media analysts are at a loss to explain this. On the whole, however, Canadians report a significant uptick in satisfaction with the political system.
The party bus and the pogo sticks are now a bit of a gimmick. The political process is now so engaging that Canadians can rest assured that no government will ever again think of barring baseball from the country — or taking any other major step, for that matter — without the populace being involved in the process.
Possible Canadas is a partnership of diverse organizations that share the goal of supporting forward-looking conversations about the future of Canada. The project is produced by Discourse Media and Reos Partners, in collaboration with RECODE and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. Partners’ support does not imply endorsement of the views represented.