MACLEAN'S REPORTS

How Trudeau's young supporters are making a play for power

NORMAN DEPOE March 1 1969
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

How Trudeau's young supporters are making a play for power

NORMAN DEPOE March 1 1969

How Trudeau's young supporters are making a play for power

PRIME MINISTER Trudeau’s repeated invitation during and since last spring’s election campaign for young people to get involved in politics may now be turning into a time bomb, with the time of explosion still indefinite but awaited with a good deal of apprehension. Recent months have seen move after move by official Young Liberals to get where the action is — within the senior party.

Two notable instances took place in late January and early February in Toronto and Montreal. In Toronto, the young group simply used their

vigor and stamina, waiting until older members of the Toronto and District Liberál Association had succumbed to the growing fatigue of a five-hour meeting and gone home. Then the young Turks rammed through a resolution giving them more delegates at future conventions. It was all perfectly legal, and despite efforts by the chairman to turn it aside, it went through.

The Quebec situation is slightly different, because the federal and provincial Liberal parties operate separately, even though there’s a lot of overlapping in membership. And on the federal level, the official Young Liberal Association is much weaker than it is in other provinces. Nevertheless, the younger group turned up in force, and did its best to get its views not just on the record but written into the party constitution and policy.

Ontario and Quebec were a little late. The youth group in Saskatchewan has already succeeded in moving into posts that would normally be occupied by senior members of the Liberal party. The real move came last April (before the election, and this is significant) when the senior party was having its annual convention with all the trimmings in a large hotel, while the Young Liberals were meeting in much smaller and less luxurious quarters. At the urging of one senior official, many of them moved over to the senior convention, spoke and voted on party policy.

And that is the really new thing that is happening. Ip the past, Young Liberals (up to 35) have met separately, passed resolutions and presented them to regional and national conventions. Almost invariably, the senior party has either rejected them or modified the resolution beyond recognition. This reporter remembers a number of occasions when he has asked senior Liberals about a resolution coming from the younger group, and to quote just one of them, Paul Hellyer, the answer went: “When I was a Young Liberal I was pretty radical, too. But when you have responsibility, things change.”

The trouble with that attitude is that the young people — especially after repeated invitations from Trudeau — are not willing to wait much longer to have a real voice in policy making and in the structure of the party. There have been suggestions that this new, aggressive mood stems from disenchantment with the Trudeau record so far. Not so, according to the Young Liberals I’ve talked to. What they want to do is back Trudeau, and give him grass-roots

strength for his more radical moves. What they are really disenchanted with are their elders in the party, and the attitude of tolerant amusement by older people.

What’s likely to come out of it? The Young Liberal clubs as such may disappear completely, with the young people becoming full-fledged members of the senior party, both at constituency and national levels — where they could outnumber their elders. Some MPs are privately dismayed. They are among the few who have depended on a small, tightly knit local group of oldsters who make up their riding association. Renomination, funds and other support were virtually automatic. But if a group of younger people move in, sitting members might find their record in question, their funds reduced and renomination not necessarily guaranteed.

The situation varies across the country. Manitoba has already accepted the idea of complete integration of the young group into the senior party. Alberta may, and also Saskatchewan. British Columbia, perhaps as usual, is a toss-up. The most resistance to the idea of integration seems to be coming from New Brunswick. But whatever happens, look out for a new Liberal party that just' could be dominated by young people, and impatient young people at that. They want change, and they want it fast.

NORMAN DEPOE