Youth Roundtable with Paul Martin & Mary MacDonald

I guess you could say that today is “federal Liberals day” here in Edmonton. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin is in town to lend his support to local candidates. He spent the day with Mary MacDonald, the Liberal candidate for Edmonton-Centre, and will join Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at a public rally tonight. This afternoon Martin and MacDonald hosted a youth roundtable discussion that I was invited to and attended.

Paul Martin & Mary MacDonald

I was a little hesitant about attending a “youth” roundtable, because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into discussing “youth” issues. I really liked that there was a mix of ages at Mike Lake’s roundtable. Why can’t an old person care about voter apathy and a young person care about foreign policy? The first topic on the invitation for today’s event was “youth engagement” and that’s actually what organizers suggested as a topic to start the discussion. I’m happy to report that it was a free-flowing discussion after that however, with some healthy back and forth.

We actually spent a lot of time talking about social media. Twitter came up, of course, and I learned that Mary’s tweets are written by both her and her staff. She said she has been enjoying tweeting so far, and vowed to keep it up after the election is over. I also thought it was interesting that she said she has learned a lot via Twitter. It’s a great tool for staying connected and finding information, so I was happy to hear that Mary is using it for that purpose as well as for getting her message across. Paul said he thinks there are definitely generational aspects to social media use, but conceded that it won’t be long until Twitter and Facebook are mainstream (I challenged that and said Facebook is already mainstream). What impressed me most throughout the discussion was that Paul asked a lot of questions of us. He seemed genuinely interested in learning more about how we would use social media. He brought up Canada’s aboriginal issues and asked how social media might be used, perhaps at first simply to build awareness. There were some great suggestions from others in the room – my advice was to resist the temptation to create new communities online, and instead to try to connect with existing ones. I also cautioned against thinking that only young people use social media.

We discussed a few other issues such as the arts, Internet voting, and Canada’s competitiveness. It was interesting to hear Paul share a few stories about his work in Africa throughout the various discussions as well. Given that so much of our discussion was related to the Internet, I thought it was appropriate to bring up the CRTC and the fact that Canada is an Internet backwater. Mary said their name is an indication of how out-of-touch the CRTC is, but said that it’s more than an issue of Canada having slower or more expensive Internet access than other parts of the world. She pointed out that literacy skills are perhaps more important than ever, and that Canada definitely has work to do in that regard. Digital Policy is listed as one of the Liberals’ top issues, so I was expecting Paul and Mary to talk a little more about it, but to be fair it came up right at the end of the time we had available.

Overall it was an enjoyable discussion, and I definitely appreciated the opportunity to meet Paul Martin! You can learn more about the Liberal platform here, and you can visit Mary’s website here.

If you’d like an opportunity to talk with Mary MacDonald, don’t miss candi{date} taking place from 5pm to 7pm on April 20 at Metro Billiards downtown. She’ll be there along with the other candidates for Edmonton-Centre: Laurie Hawn, David Parker, Peggy Morton, Lewis Cardinal, and Mikkel Paulson.

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