The Daily Mader – May 9, 2011

Every person who is a Canadian citizen and is 18 years of age or older…

THIS IS MY SON: Such angst there’s been over the election of a handful of youngsters to Canada’s 41st Parliament. Well, I say “young”; the youngest is nineteen, which is older, as many have pointed out, than Queen Victoria was when she assumed the throne. It’s also two years older than he’d have to be to join the Canadian Forces. So there’s certainly a strong argument that youth-qua-youth should not be a disqualifying characteristic.

HE WORKS HIS WORK, I MINE: Of course Pierre-Luc Dusseault isn’t Queen Victoria. Nor is Ruth Ellen Brosseau; nor are any of the McGill Five. Quite unlike Queen Victoria, who was born to be regent, these young MPs have not spent their youth awaiting their ascension to power. They spent their youth the way many middle-class Canadians spend their youth: going to school, going to college, never in a million years expecting to be elected to Parliament. So while youth-qua-youth isn’t a disqualifying factor, nor is it some badge of merit. It’s a dynamic variable: it can be a positive, or a negative, depending on the youth in question.

YET ALL EXPERIENCE IS AN ARCH: For instance, while it’s true that our new young MPs could have joined the Canadian Forces some years ago, it’s also true that none of them did. Which means none is bringing the experience of a veteran to the great council of the nation. (How many MPs are vets? How many are veterans of Afghanistan?) If there’s a knock against the young MPs, then, I don’t think it’s simply on account of their youth; it’s on account of the youths they’ve had. At our best, we are each more than the sum of our experiences; but we are at the very least that: the product of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve known, the things we’ve done. And the sum of the experiences of these new MPs, though impressive in general terms, isn’t perhaps as impressive as we might wish for in the three hundred and eight Canadians who govern the rest of us.

DECENT NOT TO FAIL: University is an important experience (though perhaps not as important as it was once thought). I can certainly say that I matured and developed in important ways during my time at McGill. And lord knows that, while I was at McGill, I thought I had all the answers, and could do just as good a job as the MPs who shuffled the halls in Ottawa. And as compared to some of our current crop of yes-men and empty suits, that was probably true – and if so, it’s even more true of the new youngsters, who are more impressive than I was at that age. And maybe that’s enough to put an end to our criticism.

MUCH HAVE I SEEN AND KNOWN: But even the most impressive and accomplished university student is still a university student: armed with the confidence and surety of education, but yet untested in the currents of daily life. I spent most of my university years with my nose in the books, and I think I can say with confidence that what I’ve learned since graduation dwarfs what I learned in my four years at McGill. That’s almost necessarily true, for all of us. In a way, it’s necessarily true of each additional stage in life. For instance, while I’ve always been interested in public office, I first made a conscious decision to seek office, at some point in my life, when I was twenty-four. At that time I was sure I was qualified to sit in the House — even though I didn’t have a job, or a wife, or a house. By the end of this summer, God willing, I’ll have all three. (I already have the job.) And the experiences that lead up to these great life-events — and the experiences that flow from them — have changed my perspective on all manner of issues in a deep and profound way. All of a sudden, abstract principles of right and liberty and fairness and equality are brought sharply into focus next to the suddenly more pressing concerns of family and stability and future. In fact you could argue that Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who’s taken the most criticism among the new MPs, is in fact the most qualified — being a single mother, as she reportedly is, and a working woman.

THOUGH MUCH IS TAKEN, MUCH ABIDES: Or maybe that’s all hokum. After all, for my own part, while my perspective has changed, my convictions and my conclusions haven’t. I’d probably cast the same votes now as I’d have casted ten years ago, with a few exceptions. That’ll be true of our new, young MPs: they’ll do things in the coming months and years that they’ll later look back on with regret. Isn’t that true of all of us? And while their decisions have more public resonance than yours or mine, still none are in a position to do lasting harm — not to our country, and not to themselves. Already they’ve grown from an experience that has set them apart from their peers, and they’ll only continue to grow as they struggle with the pressures of public office — and the private life of their early twenties. At the end of the day, if we don’t want nineteen-year-olds and university students sitting in Commons, we should change the law to make sure it doesn’t happen. Unless and until we decide to do that — and I hope we don’t — the least we owe these young MPs is our best hopes and wishes as they face this new challenge. They’re going to need it.