Young PCs propose mandatory civics class

High school students targeted in effort to increase political participation

Young Progressive Conservative President Justin Zinck speaks at the PC annual general meeting on Saturday. Photo: Greg Weston

At the Conservative's annual general meeting this weekend, the Young Progressive Conservatives proposed mandatory civic classes for high school students.

The youth wing includes the approximately 500 members of the provincial party between the ages of 14 and 25. It hopes the democracy and governance course would spark interest in politics at a younger age and reverse the trend of youth voter apathy.

"Why not teach them more, teach the youth about it?" asked Tyler Dennis, the group's policy adviser and author of the proposal. "You've got to instruct the youth now to get involved or, as far the future goes, who knows what could happen?"

After being passed, the proposal became official party policy. As a result, it will either form a part of the Progressive Conservative platform should an election occur within the next year, or the minister of education will provide an update on its progress at the 2010 annual meeting. The young Conservatives suggested the class be added to the curriculum between Grades 9 and 12, but would leave the final decision up to the department.

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MLA Alfie MacLeod and MP Gerald Keddy attend the annual meeting of the Young Progressive Conservatives. Photo: Greg Weston

Dennis, a fourth-year history student at Dalhousie University and president of the Dalhousie-King's Conservatives, said he prefers the educational approach to the mandatory voting policies in countries such as Australia.

"It's a reasonable policy, something that can be enacted and we can get results," he said.

'Why would I reinvent the wheel?'

Judy Streatch, minister of education in Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative government, said opportunities to teach citizenship already exist within the current curriculum.

"Our challenge is engaging teachers to teach it and providing them with enough tools and enough resources and enough skills themselves that they feel comfortable teaching it," said Streatch, who was a teacher for 15 years before entering politics.

"When things are already available, you sort of ask yourself ‘Why would I reinvent the wheel?' I think we have to be really careful that we don't try to create something that would be the panacea when we've already got stuff out there now."

Dennis said the course wouldn't be designed to create democratic experts, but rather to encourage students to learn more.

"You're not trying to do the details," he said. "You're going to do it in broad terms so they can at least understand the basic mechanics. Then, if they're really interested, go take a polisci course when you're older."

Gerald Keddy, Conservative member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margaret's who attended the meeting, said he found the proposal "interesting."

"I would be very leery of partisanship on behalf of whoever was leading that class, of favouring one party or another," he said. "But as far as having a mandatory civics class on politics and part of that class is becoming involved in a political party...I think that would make sense."

Premier acknowledges role of youth

Justin Zinck, a recent graduate of Saint Mary's University and president of the youth branch of the Nova Scotia party, said his organization helps get young people involved in politics at an early age.

"It's basically an outlet for young people to come together. If you noticed the meeting here, there's a lot of grey hair out there," he said. "This is more an atmosphere where we can feel comfortable to more openly express your opinions. When you're dealing with somebody that's been involved in the party for 10, 15, 20 years, it's really intimidating to come into a room and try to talk to them for the first time."

During his closing question and answer session on Sunday, Premier Rodney Macdonald recognized the contributions of the youth wing and challenged the party to build more support among young people.

"I think next year, if every single riding can come (to the annual meeting) with five youth, that we can continue to grow the grassroots of our party the way it should be. We're seeing that growth happen the last five years. It's a trend we need to continue," he said.

Keddy echoed the premier's call for engaging young Nova Scotians.

"Get involved in the process," he said. "And if you don't like the process, then work to change it."


Comments on this story are now closed

An educated populace is a necessity for a high functioning and performing democracy. All efforts that encourage engagement in political and civic discourse should be pursued and implemented in a non-partisan way. In my opinion, the only people/party that would discourage this type of education is looking to gain power and control at the expense of the citizens it proclaims to govern. An ignorant, apathetic populace is one of the big requirements for unchecked abuses of power and dictator-style government. Just look at what happened in the US over the past 8 years when people were more concerned with who won American Idol than secret prisons, torture and civil liberties violations... oh and even the suspension of habeas corpus. Citizens should be motivated enough on their own to be engaged, but sometimes that's not the case when there are so many other distractions available and pushed like heroin through a needle into the collective consciousness.

Posted by #1 Groupie | Feb 10, 2022

I have to say I'm about as un-conservative as you can get, but I love what these kids are doing here. My mandatory high school civics class was what got me excited about politics. And while it's important to be "leery of partisanship", I don't think it's too much of an issue. We're faced with partisan views every day; they permeate every ideology and conversation. I disagreed with my teacher's partisan viewpoints, but they taught me how to refine my own arguments. High school students might as well prepare for the real (and biased!) world outside now.

Posted by nice! | Feb 11, 2022

Unfortunately my mandatory high school Civics class was taught by a woman so senile she asked us to close the windows on a 30-degree day because she thought she might get SARS (I am not from Toronto). If this class had been taught by a competent educator I could have become a scummy politician by now.

Posted by Steve Davis | Feb 11, 2022