Reading Time: 3 minutes

Debate needed to understand the social issues facing us today

This is the second article from Stephanie Piamonte in a series that examines why millennials are, or seem to be, disengaged from politics, and whether the problem is our generation, or if it is generational. The first article can be found here.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 11.56.27 AM
Stephanie Piamonte

Given the federal government’s reluctance to debate challenging social issues, we may see the continuation of a trend in which millennials engage in alternative initiatives rather than traditional political institutions.

For example, euthanasia is a tough topic, yet the federal government is unwilling to discuss the issue that Dr. Donald Low publicized so poignantly in a video in September, calling for a need for “dying with dignity.”

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said, “We’re into the area of moral questions.  And I simply do not believe it is in our best interest to open up the debate or to bring forward legislation that would change the current laws that are meant to protect people from abuse.”

But debates over social issues are a characterizing feature of the new millennium and should not be ignored. A millennial is more likely to want to tackle difficult issues like euthanasia and same-sex marriage rather than avoid the taboo.

A recent example of millennials engaging with conflicting opinions and values occurred at NASH 76, an annual national conference for aspiring student journalists hosted this year in Edmonton. The selection of Ezra Levant as one of the keynote speakers was deliberately controversial.  According to Alex Migdal, the conference organizer, “My primary purpose was to make our keynote lineup really engaging and diverse and interesting, and ultimately get people talking.”

Not everyone shared Migdal’s views.  Prior to the conference, Concordia’s student newspaper the Link published an opinion article suggesting the decision to invite Ezra Levant was “misguided” based on accusations of hate speech and libel that have been levelled against Levant.  Erin Sparks, author of the article, wrote, “I’m not opposed to hearing opinions I disagree with … but there is a big difference between a divergent opinion and hate speech.”

Reflecting back on the NASH conference, Migdal said Levant’s speech kept him “thoroughly entertained” but it was also the speech that “had me questioning things that I had never ever thought about before.”  In other orders, listening to Levant made it harder to dismiss all of his opinions based on a single accusation of hate speech.

That is the purpose of debate: to provoke thought and to promote understanding.  Suppressing debates for fear of alienating voters might be politically strategic, but it might also leave a millennial wondering how valuable federal politics are in creating social policies.  If the federal government can’t speak to the issues that concern millennials, we may see the continuation of a trend toward community-based actions and grassroots initiatives.

Jer’s Vision is one of such grassroots initiatives. Founded by U of O alum Jeremy Dias, Jer’s Vision is a youth-led organization dedicated to the elimination of bullying and discrimination among youth.  It was founded nearly a decade before cyber-bullying became a political issue.  In order to prevent discrimination, the organization promotes diversity through education, conferences, the arts, and community involvement.  These strategic approaches share a commonality; they signal a willingness to discuss and act on tough issues.

Political parties should take note. Unless our government begins to address difficult social issues, such organizations will remain the forum in which millennials articulate their concerns, not the ballot box.

Check back for next week’s article on the environment.



We want to know what you think: 

What do you think of the decision to disinvite the controversial Ann Coulter from a speaking engagement at Ottawa U in 2010?

What are some of the social issues millennials are talking about today?

What role, if any, should the federal government play in creating social policies?

Leave your answers/opinions in the comments below.