(Disponible en français : Les jeunes parlementaires dans le monde)
Cynics would have you believe that young people are just not interested in parliamentary politics. Despite the conventional wisdom that young people do not want to participate in democracy, statistics say otherwise: around the world, the number of young parliamentarians is on the rise.
In honour of the Fourth IPU (Inter-Parliamentary Union) Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians taking place 17 and 18 November 2017 in Ottawa on the theme Young Parliamentarians as Drivers of Inclusion, this HillNote takes a look at young parliamentarians in Canada and around the world.
Young Parliamentarians in Canada
In the House of Commons, of those members of Parliament whose age is known, 74 are under the age of 45, accounting for about 25% of all the members. After the 2015 election, 24.2% of these parliamentarians were in this age group, ranking Canada 83rd among IPU countries.
The current leaders of the two main opposition parties—Andrew Scheer of the Conservative Party of Canada and Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party—belong in this category. Justin Trudeau, born in 1971, was also a young parliamentarian when he was elected prime minister on 19 October 2015.
In the Senate of Canada, only one senator out of the 94 currently serving is under the age of 45, accounting for less than 1% of the entire Senate.
Young Parliamentarians around the World
Including young people in democratic life is one of the IPU’s priorities. In addition to the Forum of Young Parliamentarians, which gives young parliamentarians a chance to meet and discuss ideas, the IPU supports member initiatives that include young people in the political decision-making process and advocates for greater youth representation in parliaments.
In 2016, as a result of the cooperation of its member parliaments, the IPU released the findings of its study Youth participation in national parliaments, which provides a snapshot of young parliamentarians around the world. Since 2014, the number of young parliamentarians in all age groups is on the rise. However, as shown in the following IPU infographic, the fastest-growing groups of parliamentarians are those under 40 and under 45. Youth under 30 make up less than 2% of parliamentarians. Of concern is the fact that close to 80% of the world’s upper chambers, including Canada’s, do not have any members under 30.
Source: IPU, Infographic from Youth participation in national parliaments, 2016.
Initiatives to Encourage Youth Participation in Parliamentary Life
What reasons might prevent young people from entering politics? In her book Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters, Shauna L. Shames talks to young American university students to find out why most of them, unlike the young people of earlier generations, are refusing to enter into politics. The author’s work shows that young people are rejecting a work environment seen as toxic, finding the costs too high, and not seeing how they can make a difference.
In an effort to reverse this trend, in 2010 the IPU adopted the resolution Youth Participation in the Democratic Process, in which members call on
- youth organizations and other relevant stakeholders to achieve appropriate representation and participation of youth in decision-making bodies;
- parliaments to develop practical measures to increase the participation of young people in parliament and other representative bodies; and
- States, parliaments, parliamentarians, political parties, the IPU and youth organizations to take targeted action to enhance the participation of young people in political parties and elections at the local, national and regional levels.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is also interested in this issue. According to the UNDP document Youth, Political Participation and Decision-Making, “[i]n order to respond to the needs of young people, and to guarantee that their basic human rights are recognized and enforced, young people’s active and meaningful participation in their societies and in democratic practices and processes is of crucial importance.”
The UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, in cooperation with the IPU and other partners, launched the Not too young to run campaign, which, by consolidating efforts to promote the rights of young people around the world, is intended to inspire and encourage them to run for office. This campaign also points out that in many countries, the legal age of candidacy is higher than the legal voting age, which impedes full youth participation in parliaments.
Once elected, young parliamentarians are also building their own mutual support networks. The U.S. Young Elected Officials Network is for politicians 35 and under, providing them with resources and support for their leadership development. In British Columbia, a similar Canadian initiative, also called the Young Elected Officials Network (YEON) but independent from the U.S. network, connects young local politicians and encourages young people to get involved in municipal politics.
Youth Civic Engagement
Studies looking at young people and politics often focus on their participation rather than their engagement with a political party. For example, Elections Canada launched the platform Inspire Democracy to disseminate studies on youth participation and to share information on how to encourage youth civic engagement. The Elections Canada campaigns seem to be paying off, since turnout by voters under 45 grew substantially between the 2011 and 2015 general elections.
Source: Elections Canada, Infographic on Voter Turnout in the 41st and 42nd General Elections, by Age Group.
Youth engagement in elections and in politics is not just an issue for Canada. Organizations around the globe are looking at what can be done. One of these organizations is the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). Following a 2015 round table, IDEA published a guide for electoral management bodies on increasing youth participation in political and electoral processes, including through the use of technologies and social media, as well as education and reforms to current processes. As well, the UNDP published a good practice guide that presents strategies for encouraging youth engagement before, during and after elections.
Other organizations are also interested in not only youth engagement but also their views on politics. One such organization is Samara Canada, whose report Can You Hear Me Now? Young People and the 2015 Federal Election turns conventional thinking about youth and politics on its head, showing that young people are not apathetic and that they are looking for in-person, not just virtual, contact.
 In this HillNote, unless otherwise indicated, “young parliamentarians” refers to those under 45 years of age, as defined by the IPU.
Author: Gabrielle de Billy Brown, Library of Parliament