Liberal youth looking to reshape their party

Liberal youth are enthusiastic about this weekend's policy convention and are aiming to leave their mark on the party's rebuilding plan.

Bob Rae says 'new generation' of Liberals coming to convention

Zach Paikin, 20, is one of many young Liberals trying to shake up the way the party operates in the coming years as it rebuilds. (Kent Kuran photo)

Liberal youth are looking to influence the future of their party as it rebuilds and will be trying to make their mark at this weekend's convention.

According to the Liberal Party of Canada's outgoing president, Alf Apps, more than one-third of the delegates attending the three-day convention in Ottawa are under 30. At least 2,600 people are expected to attend the weekend event.

"We're going to have a lot of young people there, we're going to have a new generation of folks who have never been to a convention before," interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Wednesday.

Young Liberals will not only be trying to make an impact on the party by their attendance at the biennial policy convention, but in various ways they are trying to shape how it operates in the years to come.

Zach Paikin, Braeden Caley and Daniel Lovell aren’t letting their youth hold them back and launched competitive campaigns for the position of national policy chair. All under 25, they are up against two other more senior candidates, Paul Summerville and Maryanne Kampouris.

Paikin, at 20, has attracted media coverage as the youngest person in the race, and a number of endorsements from high-profile Liberals have given a boost to his credibility. Liberal MPs Marc Garneau, Irwin Cotler and Rodger Cuzner are all backing him and he also has the support of former Ontario premier David Peterson.

"Zach is the future and he's here now," George Smitherman, former Ontario cabinet minister, said in his endorsement of Paikin.

Lovell, a fourth-year Ryerson University student, said Liberals shouldn't be afraid of change and that change is needed in order for the party to survive. Caley added that the party's survival depends on Liberals reconnecting with Canadians and that policy development is a passion of his.

Other youth are also using the convention as a platform to get their ideas heard.

Two young women, Alyx Holland and Madeleine Webb, are launching an initiative they created called Beyond the Numbers, intended to attract more young women to the Liberal Party.

The party already has a women’s commission, but Webb says a dedicated program is needed to encourage more young women to join.

"Something we need in the party right now is a way to actively recruit young women," the 20-year-old student at Queen’s University said in an interview. She said young Liberals are well-positioned to recruit new members because of their social connections and presence on school campuses.

Webb and Holland envision a mentoring-type program that would involve social and educational events where Liberal women of all ages can meet.

"What we think is really necessary is to connect young Liberal women with senior party women who have experience," said Webb.

The duo will be gathering support for the initiative at the convention this weekend.

Youth to play 'critical role' in rebuilding process

A policy resolution from the youth wing of the party that calls for the legalization of marijuana is also going to be debated and voted on by delegates.

The national director of the Young Liberals of Canada says youth are ready, willing and able to help rebuild the party after its historic defeat in the last federal election.

"We strongly believe young people in the party are going to play a critical role in rebuilding this weekend and after," Keith Torrie said. "The youth turnout at this convention will demonstrate that for passionate, compassionate and engaged young Canadians, the Liberal Party is their home."

To Marlene Floyd, a Liberal who spent her 20s working on Parliament Hill for former prime minister Paul Martin and for David Emerson while he was still a Liberal, the youth involvement is exactly what she would expect to see.

"It really doesn't surprise me in the least to see Young Liberals taking a leadership role in the rebuild of the party with initiatives such as Beyond the Numbers and the younger generation that is running for senior executive positions this weekend," said Floyd, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa.

She said she feels a sense of motivation among Liberals in the under-45 crowd who remain committed to the party and want to be part of its rebuilding.

"It's our time to take the lead and change the Liberal Party into the modern political party that it needs to be," said Floyd.

"With motivated new generations of Liberals taking a step forward to lead, I have great confidence that the party is going to head in the right direction, and quickly," she said. 


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