Last Thursday, Nov. 10, NDP McGill presented “What’s Up on the Hill?”, an evening with the four McGill undergraduates elected to parliament during the May 2011 federal election. Held at Concordia, the event featured NDP MPs Charmaine Borg, Matthew Dubé, Mylène Freeman, and Laurin Liu, who spoke about their recent transition from student life to Parliament Hill.
“You can’t be afraid of looking for help,” Dubé said. “The day where you feel you have all the answers is the day you don’t deserve to do this job anymore, because no one ever knows all the answers.”
The four expressed disappointment with the different treatment they have received because of their youth. The three female MPs also described challenges related to gender in the male-dominated parliament.
“Sometimes I do encounter a lot of sexism, and that really frustrates me,” Freeman said. “It’s funny, but at the same time it’s really awful.”
Nevertheless, Freeman was enthusiastic about the increase in female representatives elected this year.
“It’s really exciting for me to have so many women in our caucus. In the NDP caucus, we’re 40 per cent women,” Freeman said. “But [that portion is] only 25 per cent in the House.”
Despite large changes to Canada’s political landscape—reflected in parliament—the four said that they largely feel supported by their colleagues.
“Most—I say most—people understand that we’re all there to do the same job, regardless of colour, political colour, or age,” Dubé said.
However, media portrayal of the four new MPs has focused largely on their youth, something the four find disappointing. Freeman specifically commented on the media’s tendency to question the group’s French communication skills despite the fluency of all four candidates.
“It was really frustrating, and we have been working to combat that stuff. I hope that people realize that we are competent and we’re working as hard as we can,” she said.
When not defending their own capabilities, the MPs are working hard to emphasize that there many political issues beyond just tuition fees and unemployment that are pertinent to young Canadians.
“Usually people say ‘Pensions? That’s not a youth issue,'” Borg said. “But it is, because they’re slowly cutting [young voters] out of collective agreements and they’re slowly cutting them out of benefit packages for jobs, so for the first time we’ve heard people stand up and say, ‘No, my generation needs to hang on to these things.'”
While the MPs each discussed their recent experiences in Parliament, Dubé also drew attention to McGill’s role in their collective political experience.
“It’s really fun for us to get to come back to where we came from. It has a lot to do with what’s shaped us as parliamentarians,” he said.
Student engagement was a major theme at the event. The evening was intended to directly connect youth to political events in Ottawa, NDP McGill Co-President Samuel Harris, said.
“They’re regular people, they’re not just some far-off distant group,” Harris said. “They’re our age, they’re former McGill students, they had to work through university, they had all sorts of the same experiences we have [had].”
Other students in the audience appreciated the insight the group offered.
“It was nice to get the perspective [of] people who are just like me,” Sauran Shah, U0 arts and science, said. “Politics often seems like it’s limited to older, experienced people.”
All four MPs are hoping to change this image of parliament, and emphasized increasing youth involvement in Canadian politics as an important goal.
“Young people aren’t just leaders of tomorrow,” said Liu. “They’re also leaders of today.”