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Gen-Z to the rescue

It looks like we may be seeing the first break in the populist political wave that’s been washing across North America over the past few years.

And it may be the youngest among us, the Generation Z cohort, who are doing the heavy lifting to make this happen.

The U.S. midterm elections have slammed the door on a widely predicted, MAGA-inspired “red wave” that was supposed to wash over the House and the Senate. It’s clear now that enough Americans were turned off by the GOP’s anti-abortion stance and clown-show candidates in many key states to essentially stop the Trump train in its tracks.

On top off that, Gen-Z voters are said to have been key in turning the red wave into a trickle. The oldest Gen-Zers are now in their early twenties and turned out in record numbers in key battleground states to make a difference.

They even elected one of their own, 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost, who became the first Gen Z candidate elected to Congress. He won the right to represent Florida’s 10th congressional district after running a campaign based on the issues of abortion rights, climate change and gun violence.

“History was made tonight,” he wrote in an election night tweet. “We made history for Floridians, for Gen Z, and for everyone who believes we deserve a better future.”

That’s key – “a better future”. Everyone wants a better future, but most of us – the people who describe themselves as centrists on the political spectrum – want a better future without populist fringe politics.

If what we’re seeing at Centre Ice Canadians is any indication, there’s a vast and deep thirst for discussions of ideas and issues that count without the “batshit crazy” elements that were recently rejected by American voters. And nowhere is this more apparent than among Gen-Zers, young people born between 1997 and 2012.

We saw this vividly on display in late October, when CIC held a sold-out policy conference in Halifax. Fifteen panelists of all political stripes and different professional backgrounds gathered and put together twenty pragmatic ideas or policy proposals.

It was the lead-off panel of three very articulate, passionate and partisan political pundits that showed our crowd how closely aligned our three leading federal political parties can be on key issues of concern to centrist Canadians.

Amanda Alvaro, a Liberal, along with Kathleen Monk, a New Democrat, and Tasha Kheiriddin, a Conservative, are all leading strategists and commentators as well as active campaigners for their respective federal parties. Yet they too have had enough of unproductive partisan sniping.

After a free-flowing, 45-minute discussion, these three political professionals made a number of joint recommendations. First, they advised improving government financial transparency, so all parties are working from the same set of facts. This is a situation that currently favors a sitting government, which clearly has access to more information than the opposition parties. Second, they recommended more cross-party briefings, again to give equal access to information to decrease the “silo effect”. They also called for more teaching of civic literacy in schools, and more face-to-face meetings of cross-partisan politically minded citizens, like ours in Halifax.

The last issue they underlined – and one that caused most heads to nod in agreement – was to bring more Gen Z’ers into the public policy making process.

As luck would have it, a group of local university students were at our conference, so we asked them at the end of the conference to tell us what they thought of the day’s events as Gen-Z representatives.

One of them, a political science student, delivered an eloquent overview on behalf of her group. She told our crowd how thrilled her colleagues were to “get this close” and play a role in real policy discussions and how keenly interested they were in hearing more about policy, and less about politics.

What a novel concept: appealing to centrist Canadians, especially Gen-Zers, with ideas and policy-focussed events. It sounds like something that might catch on.

If this Gen Z cohort can help stop a “red wave” in the U.S., imagine the power they could have if they wanted to help stop the fringe elements of a populist wave here in Canada.

Let’s see if we can help them do that.

Rick Peterson is an Edmonton-based co-founder and director of Centre Ice Canadians

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