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Canada's 'kid' lawmakers poised to shake-up staid Parliament

Canada's recent election brought a crop of young lawmakers – including college students – to Parliament as members of the opposition New Democratic Party.

By Anita ElashCorrespondent / June 22, 2011



Toronto

At 20 years old and just halfway through college, history and cultural studies student Laurin Liu has little in common with the middle-aged white men who dominate Canadian politics. But since her election in May as one of Canada's youngest-ever lawmakers, Ms. Liu has become a symbol of both the problems and opportunities facing her party – the socialist-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) – in its new role as Official Opposition in the national Parliament.

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Liu is part of an NDP caucus that is younger, more diverse, and less experienced than has ever been seen in the House of Commons. It includes six university students, a 19-year-old who voted for the first time on the day he was elected, union leaders, an actor, the artistic director of Canada's oldest black theater, an anthropologist, and a large proportion of candidates who never expected to win. Two-thirds have no experience in national politics.

After the election, Liu said in a giggly YouTube video that she heard of her victory via text message. "My friend sent me a text message saying 'you won' and there were like a ton of exclamation marks following that and it was all in caps."

Cartoonists have had a field day with the group since the elections, depicting them as nursery school children, with party leader Jack Layton as a bemused schoolmarm. While the party has been Canada's social conscience for decades, this is the first time it takes on the important job of holding Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government to account.

Denis Pilon, a political scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, says that such diversity, along with the enthusiasm of youth, could help infuse Parliament with fresh ideas and reinvigorate the Canadian political scene, which in the last few years has been criticized as uninspired and morose.

Peculiarities in the Canadian system helped propel the NDP's set of political newbies into their new role as lawmakers. Unlike in the United States, Canadians are allowed to run for national office as soon as they are old enough to vote, at age 18. Political parties try to field candidates in every constituency, even where they have little or no party structure, because they receive a federal government subsidy for every vote they get.

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