Zach Armstrong: Step Up, Step Aside

I recently attended the Ontario Liberal Party’s Provincial Council in Sudbury. It was great to see so many dedicated Liberals working together in Northern Ontario, but one moment was particularly inspiring. During a session about youth in politics, Kathleen Wynne (Minister of Municipal & Aboriginal Affairs) provided some insights from her seat in the audience.

After talking about the intelligent young people working with her in Toronto, she said that young people have a distinct responsibility to challenge their elected representatives. Don’t be afraid to start conversations about the future of your province, or your country, she said. Conversations should be polite, but they should not be easy.

It was some heartfelt advice from a great MPP but it’s not limited to our elected leaders. The same advice applies within our Party, but in order to join the conversation one must sit at the table.

A few weeks ago Ipsos Reid released a poll that suggested 56% of Canadians consider the Liberals a “party of the past”. This didn’t come as a shock to me given my experiences at Liberal gatherings. Go to a local fundraiser, a riding association board meeting, or a local event, and the average age is likely above 50. Only at national or provincial conventions does one get a sense of the youth in our party – over a third of attendees at the Biennial in January were under 35.

I can’t help but wonder how different our party would be if thousands of Young Liberals spent time working for a riding association instead of a youth club. How different it would be if they weren’t Young Liberals at all, just Liberals. What would the Council of Presidents accomplish if a quarter of its members were under 30? What would a defunct riding association accomplish if 10 Young Liberals took it over?

So today, I’m asking Young Liberals to step up. Help rebuild your riding associations and create a Liberal Party that represents the future. Never be afraid to challenge established practices; the bold solutions you propose will make our party relevant again.

I’m also asking Old Liberals to step aside. The time has come for a new generation to move our Party, and our country, forward. We still need your help, but after your many years of service you can rest, assured, that you have changed this country for the better.

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Follow Zach on twitter: @zb_armstrong

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3 responses to “Zach Armstrong: Step Up, Step Aside

  1. We have been having just this discussion in our own riding association (Windsor West). We believe It is important for young people to be “at the table” of the riding association and not just a token ex-officio representative from the “club”. At present, we do not have a “club” but are proud to have the active engagement of young Liberals in our riding association and on our Executive Board (over 1/4 of our EB members are under 30).

    There has been pressure, however, to start a YL riding club. Ironically, the pressure has not come from the young members themselves who see a club as a duplication of effort and the movement of issues of importance to them as “separate” from the whole. The pressure to start a separate club is rooted in the current structure of YL as an “organization”. Part of the reason a separate YL club is set up in the riding is a tactical advantage in securing the extra delegate spots. I think it is time to have an honest review of the structure and processes of the YL establishment and how their own rules push toward separation instead of active and meaningful integration.

    Part of this will mean a new way of thinking which will require us to have a serious look at the delegate selection process as it relates to Young Libs as well as other benefits that should be open to young Liberals regardless of whether they belong to a YL club or not. The discussion, therefore, may at first seem as a threat to the YL “establishment” (some irony in that). I’m not suggesting the elimination of “YL” but rather I am challenging YLs to take a fresh look at their raison d’etre and, like every other aspect of our rebuilding, be bold about what this looks like and their place in it.

    Pat Papadeas
    President, Windsor West Federal Liberal EDA

    • Thanks for the comment Pat! I’ve been able to experience first hand the great work being done in Windsor and it’s nice to hear you have a good contingent of young people on your board.

      Here in London, we’ve also seen the creation of young liberal “clubs” for the sole purpose of attaining additional delegates. It’s to the point that we have two defunct young liberal clubs in London North Centre (one provincial, one federal) in addition to the active and vibrant Western Liberals.

      I’d go one step further though, in that I believe it’s time for the entire Party, from National Board to riding associations, to take a serious look at their structure. We must always remember our goal: to get Liberal MPs elected. Everything we do should move us toward achieving that goal. Each organization, each position, should be individually evaluated. If it doesn’t have a definable purpose, then it should be eliminated. We have to stop creating titles for people just so they can have a title.

  2. It is definitely a discussion we should all be having. I think there are some good things that are provided by the current concept: opportunity for people of a particular demographic (in this case “young” Liberals) to dialogue and even advocate on issues of particular concern to them, opportunity to meet, network, and, yes, socialize. Opportunity to hold a title that looks good on a resume can also be a good thing (as long as it is meaningful and not, as you rightly point out, just for the sake of having it). An honest look of “strengths” and “weaknesses” would provide a good starting point in assessing and re-thinking changes that may be due in structure by ensuring we keep the positive aspects and make changes that address the weaknesses that come from this dis-association from the core ‘on the ground’ association of Liberals in the riding.

    I throw this out for consideration in furthering the discussion of the elimination of YL clubs: what about a change in our riding association structure that would see the creation of a new “VP” position: VP Youth. In other words, the designated “youth” position would go from an ex-officio one (President of the YL Club) to an integral position in the riding association (indeed, among the table officers). In addition to a sub-group within the association for “young” members (i.e. Youth Committee), in our riding association, we ensure there is, at a minimum, one young member on all of our committees (communications, policy, fundraising, events, etc.). Our “outreach” committee has 4 pillars of outreach: multicultural, liberal re-engagement, community organizations and youth. In other words, we have a group specifically working on youth outreach.

    Having said all this, I would like to see a centralized organization that works in supporting and assisting the young liberals “in the riding” with their goals, their goals being part of the overall strategic direction of the riding association and the Party. This would mean coordinating “YL” communications, coordinating events, ensuring opportunity to meet during regional meetings, provincial meetings and AGMs, etc. This centralized piece may be separate – but it might also be “at the table” of our regional and national organizations. I challenge all of us to think about ways in which a more integrated model for engagement of young Liberals might be due. And so, yes, I agree – step up, step aside – is a great call to action.

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