A primary cause, according to researchers, is a serious disconnect between youth and politicians concerning values and interests.xxxix While student participants in our study claimed that they would vote in future, studies show that youth generally have a much weaker sense of duty than older cohorts when it comes to voting and other forms of political participation.xl Jon H. Pammet and Lawrence LeDuc are doubtful that these trends will reverse, due to the “widespread perception that politicians are untrustworthy, selfish, unaccountable, lack credibility, and are not true to their word, etc.” Too many citizens, they argue, assume that the government “betrays the people’s trust, and accomplishes little.”xli In a study conducted by D-Code, a Toronto youth-focused social research firm, interviewees (aged 18 to 35) suggest that their own disengagement with formal politics is due to the irrelevance of political issues in their daily lives, a lack of strong leadership, the poor level of decorum in the House of Commons, and the perception that politicians and politics are dishonest.xlii
Lying, brainwashing and being unreliable were common characterizations of politicians made by the Ottawa students in this study. John from Fellowship HS described the political process as “kind of like a soap opera” with boyfriend/girlfriend dramas and different people switching parties. Omar from Ottawa Alternative HS was more critical when he portrayed the government as a crime family distracting citizens with insignificant issues “while other people on the other side of the world [were] dying … like the Iraq war.” “Politician” was used as a “bad” word by most students. By virtue of that fact, politics and political discussions were deemed potentially offensive. When Sahra was asked if she had political discussions in class, she replied: “Some people might get offended … I’m not a person who speaks my mind.” Most students conveyed negative impressions without admittedly having met politicians, been part of election campaigns or visited Parliament Hill.
A particular exception to the lack of exposure to Parliament was in the Literacy class at Ottawa Alternative HS. Luke, who taught Literacy and Civics at the school, believed that, because Canada was a new home and English was a second language for most students there, they should be exposed not only to literacy as reading and writing but as governmental knowledge. The class toured the Parliament Buildings and attended Question Period. The following week, we had a lively discussion with the class members about their visit. Their initial descriptions centred on the high security that resulted in one Afghan student’s being closely searched, the grandiose decor with large pictures of past prime ministers and the lack of racial diversity among the primarily older, male parliamentarians. The students reported hearing discussions on taxation, passports, immigration, Aboriginal education and child care. With agreement from the class, one student commented: “So much discussing and arguing and not much got done.” Another student added that the yelling was both “disrespectful and exciting.” Although most were disapproving of politicians’ behaviour, they asserted that seeing the critical issues being discussed made them want to be sure and vote for the correct person next time. Some commented that because of the visit they watched CPAC, discussed politics more and could envision themselves in Parliament one day.
While many studies, including our own, demonstrate high levels of political cynicism among youth, other research notes that youth are no more cynical about politics than older generations. xliii Canadian youth do not appear to be more jaded than adults in the ways that many suspect. Howe, Johnston and Blais note that people aged 18 to 29 are the least likely to think that all federal political parties are basically the same and that there isn't really a choice (33%). They are also the least likely to believe that the government does not care much what people like them think (53%), and they are actually the most likely to say that they are at least fairly satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada (63%).xliv