A striking figure appeared in the most recent Ekos poll. If voting in Canada were limited to young people, the lowly Green Party would vie with the Conservatives and Liberals to form the next government. In most polls, the Greens score under 10 per cent; but if only those under 25 were to vote, their numbers shoot way up.
The survey, consistent with other soundings, is an indication of how big the political disconnect is between young Canada and older Canada.
Young Canadians have scant interest in old-style politics and old-style politicians. As they see it, the boring old guys (BOGs) who run this country offer no hope for real change. So they stay away from the polls and support a party that is seatless. They are the future, but they don't register on the political scales in any meaningful way. They help ensure the lock on power of an intellectually depleted boomer generation whose passion and ideals have been peeled away by the advance of the clock.
Age is good for perspective, but not spark, creativity or a sense of daring. Young Canada looks on and can't find one federal party leader below the half-century mark. Stephen Harper, at 50, isn't old but, to the young, still comes across as a dinosaur. The furrowed Michael Ignatieff, 62, is hardly the type to slide down banisters. And at 59, Jack Layton can't cut it with the younger cohort, not even with that spritely mustache that gives him the look of a Roaring Twenties bellhop.
For youth, humour is a great connector, but humour left the Ottawa diocese with the departure of John Crosbie. Nowadays, it's the dour who hold sway. Wit is in short supply. Pierre Trudeau, no spring chicken, was able to seize the imagination of the young. A bit of wit helped. He once ran into a protester who demanded to know the whereabouts of his so-called Just Society. "Ask Jesus Christ," snapped Mr. Trudeau. "He promised it first."
For today's one-liners, how about that cheery fellow Gilles Duceppe? The youth look at the BOGs (Mr. Duceppe is 62) and see empty promises, endless infighting, lame creeds. They cast their lot with the Green Party because it is relatively new and the global warming issue is one with which they can identify. They see the Greens as having a broader social and global conscience, as being the only hope against the corporate conservatism of our age.
But while the young have to put up with what Ekos pollster Frank Graves calls "baby boomer hegemony," while they have to put up with high tuition rates and soaring youth unemployment rates, we need not be overly sympathetic.
The young reject the political status quo, as they should, but they are too lazy to do anything about it. Most of the under-25s don't even bother to vote. Instead of fighting for change, they wallow in their vanities and entitlements. Not much turns them on except the Idol shows, movies with smut humour and the latest hand-held instruments. Their disillusionment with the political class is understood. Their complacency isn't. It will soon be their country. You'd think they'd want to take the reins.
Elections Canada has tried mounting campaigns to get youth interested. Some action groups such as Apathy is Boring have been formed. But there isn't much progress. There's been talk of a generational shakedown in this country for years, but it never seems to happen. In the United States, there are stirrings brought on by a new president. In Canada, we remain in the stultifying grip of grey power.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May fits the pattern. She's 55. Although her party scores high among the young, she can't be happy they don't vote. If she could get them to go to the polls, she might even win some seats.
For its next leader, the party of youth should look for someone leaner in years. The other parties might do that, as well. Boomer hegemony can't last forever. At some point, a charismatic authority has to come along and light a spark under the young legions. It's the only way to rid the country of its inspiration deficit.