On Friday night Festival Theatre was filled with eager listeners patiently waiting for Bob Rae to deliver his lecture as a part of Acadia University’s H.T Reid Lecture series. Dr. Geoffrey Whitehall described the H.T Reid Lecture as a part of the “academic culture” here at Acadia meant to publically address the political and historical issues of the Commonwealth. In our opinion (coming from a history student and a political sciences student, respectively) it is safe to say that given Bob Rae’s long political and legal career he is more than qualified to speak about “What’s Happened to Politics.”
Bob Rae has enjoyed a successful political career filled with surprising wins, devastating losses, and major personal growth; recently appointed cabinet minister Scott Brison introduced him as “the most talented and effective politician I’ve ever worked with”. Like any politician, Bob Rae knows what it is to be loved one minute and hated another, to feel the cold breeze as the winds of public opinion shift. We knew about Bob Rae and his career, so we figured we knew what we were going to get going from his lecture; your standard older white male politician spouting political babble and partisan nonsense, while discussing problems to which they have no solutions. However, this is not what he delivered during his lecture. What we witnessed, was a man in his sixties command a room of over 400 people with no notes in his hands, making the audience feel like he was talking to each and every single person there. He didn’t hide behind a lectern or distance himself from the crowd; he spoke sincerely and candidly about issues of substance (a rare thing for a politician). What we saw was a man who had a glimmer in his eye and a hope for a better Canada. We witnessed a man who held the crowd in his pocket, a man who jokingly asked them to hold their applause because he wasn’t used to such a warm reception (anyone who has raised his name in Ontario would know why). He was funny and serious, and even in his attempt to remain bipartisan still managed to crack a few Harper jokes.
Mr. Rae or Bob as he prefers to be called (because Mr. Rae is my Father) discussed issues such as proportional representation, the trend of missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada, and the commodification of politics. While that is all good, there was not much talk about the environment or the youth vote. There was no pandering here.
Bob did not bring up these issues himself; however, when asked about each of them at separate times he expressed very similar thought provoking answers. Bob explained that yes, governments can try and pass legislation and bills in order to help the environment, but the last time he supported a platform like that the backlash experienced was intense. Bob continued to explain that all politicians swim in the same pool, and that that pool forms public opinion. The bills and the agendas that are set out are formatted around what the public sphere wants, not necessarily what is needed. When I asked Bob, “In a world where the youth are used to getting information instantaneously at any hour of the day, and in stereotypically some sort of entertaining way, how do we get the youth interested in something they perceive as equally as dull as watching paint dry?” Bob was very clear and said, that, “Us politicians telling the youth to go out and vote means nothing, they have to be willing to determine what agenda they want to pursue themselves.” He continued and explained that in his younger years the youth made their voices heard, demanding that the government follow the agenda that they wanted. Bob explained that the political agenda is dominated by issues regarding healthcare and pensions because that is what they majority of voters care about. He told us that the youth vote as it is simply isn’t strong enough to attract real political attention, and until youth become a politically engaged and relevant voting base, our issues simply won’t be addressed. The agenda of the youth must be like a fire, it must be ignited first and start off small, then once it catches oxygen there is no way of telling how far it will spread.
It is up to us, the youth, to make ourselves relevant and to make our voices heard. The first thing that the youth need to decide is whether or not there is a cause that speaks to them, that they refuse to be ignored about. This will be difficult in our time. Individuality has been idolized and forced down our throats. This ideology of individualization has forced what once used to be a collective into nothing but small insignificant beings. Not only have we been taught that being an individual is key in life, we have also been taught to be afraid, not to think for ourselves, not to stand up to the government, and to accept what is being handed to us by the state. We have been conditioned to believe that competition is everything, that we need to be our best selves; the most marketable version possible. But, if there is one thing we know, it is that we have the ability to come together as a collective and make change. We have the ability to come together, like generations of youth have done before us. What causes will we champion? What kind of society will we work towards? It is completely up to us; however, it must be an issue that we are willing to take on ourselves.
During his lecture, Bob recalled a time when politics was different. When “question period” meant just that, real questions with real answers. When campaigns were run on the pressing issues of the day, and not a back and forth of negativity. A time when politics wasn’t theatre, when every line wasn’t scripted and campaign slogans weren’t repeated in every debate. The first question Bob was asked after his lecture was if he had noticed a positive improvement in politics over the past thirty years. He couldn’t think of an answer. Bob said what we were all thinking, that the level of political discourse has fallen dramatically; it’s negative, critical, and personal. I asked Bob “What’s it going to take? How do we make politics matter, how do we raise the level of discourse?” His answer was simple: passion.
So we hereby challenge our Acadia peers and ask them, “What are you passionate about? What will be our agenda? Are we willing to come together and take a stand, to make a difference?” Apathy is not boring, it is bullshit. We are thankfully living in a stable state, going to school at a university which encourages expression and collectives: so why are we not using that to our advantage? Why are we content to accept society for how it is, and not pushing it towards what it could be? Our voices matter Acadia, your voice matters. So what will we raise them for?