CMU engages with NDP leadership candidate

February 1, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Co-Editor of Young Voices
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Often, young adults are seen as apathetic about politics. But a group of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) students met with a Member of Parliament and a New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership candidate on January 11 to explain their hopes for the future of Canada.

Nathan Cullen, an MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley in Northern British Columbia, is in the top tier of competitors to fill Jack Layton’s shoes as leader of the NDP. On January 11, he was a guest speaker in an International Development Studies class at CMU called “Non-Governmental Organizations: Practices, Impacts, and Issues” instructed by Ray Vander Zaag.

Cullen has worked for various NGOs in North America, Latin America, and Africa doing community and economic development. Speaking in Vander Zaag’s class, Cullen discussed his work with NGOs and the current government’s view of them.

“Our current government equates international relations with trade. I think that’s a shame,” he said. Also, many NGOs from developed Western countries take the old colonial approach to international aid and do not humbly assume that the people they help know what they’re doing, they just need a hand up.

Cullen suggested to those considering international development work to ensure that they only work with partnership organizations for this reason.

“You work together, you sweat together,” he said. He also shared that it is very difficult work and development workers must take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually or they will harm themselves and others. NGOs that are committed to supporting their staff are often the most successful, he said.

In addition to discussing the work of NGOs, CMU students, staff and faculty gathered in the Blaurock Cafe to discuss important issues that Canada might look at differently. The omnibus crime bill was one issue that student, Jami Reimer felt was important to address. Her mother works in the prison system helping inmates to earn their High School diplomas and has seen first-hand how the current justice system is harming incarcerated people rather than helping them reintegrate into society as contributing members.

Reimer shared that “Harper’s ‘serious crime for serious time’ philosophy just puts more serious, hardened criminals back into communities when they are released.”

Cullen believes that “we should worry as much about criminals going into prison as criminals coming out.” Because the government over-emphasizes the former and overlooks the latter, he has serious concerns about the Omnibus crime bill.

Students also wanted to hear more about Cullen’s idea to change the voting system. Cullen hopes the political parties to the left of centre will collaborate so that votes will matter. He plans to implement this if parties are willing if he becomes leader of the NDP on March 24.

“Right now, the opposition can’t affect the agenda of the government,” Cullen said, so young people who are apathetic about politics don’t think their vote matters. “Your vote should matter,” Cullen said. He hopes to call upon the riding associations to hold joint nominating meetings with the Greens and Liberals in areas represented by a conservative MP.

This is not the first time that CMU has hosted political figures. In the recent past, CMU has hosted political forums with local MPs from different political parties fielding questions from students. Steven Fletcher, Progressive Conservative MP for Charleswood, St. James, Assiniboia, and Headingley in Winnipeg has visited CMU several times, whether to speak about politics or to be a part of CMU announcements.

CMU wants students to be challenged by politicians and for politicians to be challenged by students and are intentional about inviting politicians into discourse said Ben Borne, CMU Student Council President and organizer of the event. Discussions like these encourage voter responsibility and are opportunities for students to be transparent and honest about their vision for the future, he said. “Often times we live in our own little bubble. As Christians, we are called to engage with the world.”

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