Young people seeking alternate means of social engagement
Two-and-a-half months after the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta elected a new leader and premier of Alberta, another leader has been put into power in the party: not for the head of the group itself, but rather a head of their youth.
Evan Legate, a student at the University of Calgary taking his master's in political science, was named the new president of the Progressive Conservative Youth of Alberta in the group's annual general meeting in Banff on Nov. 20.
The 23-year-old, who has been involved with the group for the past year and a half, said there are a number of reasons to be involved in the youth-wing of a party.
"It's a great way to have your voice heard within the party; it's a great learning experience," Legate said. "You learn how politics work."
As well, he said the party provides an opportunity to network and speak directly with the ministers and MLAs of the party, who Legate said are "really approachable."
One of those listening to the unified voices of the members of the PC youth group is Bill Smith, president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.
"Every member of our party brings a different perspective, and the youth perspective is helpful in a lot of ways, especially in that they are oftentimes really fresh ideas," Smith said.
As well, the party hasn't ignored the youth's penchant for the use of social media, he said.
"They are bringing a lot of new things in terms of social media," he said. "The knowledge and experience they have is really helping us as we develop our social media work."
Legate also said the members of his organization bring something else to the table that the general members of the party sometimes lack: energy.
"The biggest thing is the hard work and the enthusiasm," he said. "I know during the campaigns, we're asked to do a lot of the ground work. We provide a united voice (for the youth), and bring hard work, dedication, enthusiasm and energy."
However, it is keeping up this energy and enthusiasm that creates Legate's greatest challenge. Following the leadership election at the end of September, the youth organization saw a large influx of members — boosting its current numbers to over 1,000 — and while a good thing, this has created new problems for the group, he said.
While the number of members is up, Legate said his biggest challenge is to find out "how to maintain (that level of membership). We want to keep them engaged and active, and we want to bring them into the next general election."
Keeping the young members of groups like the PC engaged in politics can prove to be quite a challenge — statistically, the young demographic is one that is becoming less politically engaged, said Lori Williams, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University.
This is a trend Legate said is propagated both by the political parties and the youth themselves.
"I don't think political parties are necessarily all reaching out to incorporate more youth, and I also don't think that youth are trying to get their voices heard through political parties," Legate said. "I think they go through different means such as interest groups, petitions, protests rallies, and they don't realize this is a really effective way to get their voices heard."
However, it's oftentimes the overbearing nature of political parties that deter youth from joining them, Williams said.
"I think one of the reasons we are seeing a decline is there are other options for making a difference, other options for having an impact on society, other options that that aren't as implicated in the established flaws or problems that exist," she said.
"It's almost like you're joining an endless process when you go into formal politics, whereas if you're engaging in political issues outside of that, it's something you can get accomplished on a short-term basis or it can be something very concrete you can attach your efforts and energy to."