By Joe Howell
“All politics is toxic,” said Professor Kathleen Wynne to the Vic One students gathered in the Isabel Bader Theatre on February 7. “So why would any of us get involved? That’s the core of the conversation I want to have today.”
Having served as Ontario’s 25th premier and in a variety of cabinet positions, Professor Wynne knows better than anyone just how poisonous politics can be. “I decided early on that rather than weeping, I was going to laugh.” She first ran for school trustee in 1994. “My motivation for being involved was publicly funded education. That’s what drove me—to meet with people, listen to what they have to say and bring those voices back to the tables where decisions were being made.”
Professor Wynne now teaches at Victoria College, where she leads a seminar in the Chambers Stream of the Vic One program as the Hon. Newton W. Rowell Professor. (Vic One is designed to highlight the meaningful dialogue that can take place in a small classroom setting, offering a distinctive academic experience for first-year students.) Professor Wynne spoke as the latest guest lecturer in the weekly Vic One Plenary session, held on Wednesdays at 4 p.m.
“One of the things that really worries me is when I hear from young people an antipathy toward our institutions: ‘Government doesn’t work. Politicians are all corrupt.’ Those kinds of statements. It’s not that I don’t understand where those attitudes come from. I think that there is an enormous amount of disillusionment, exacerbated because of polarization.”
In light of the serious issues we face, these attitudes make it all the more critical to “get involved and stay involved,” Professor Wynne told students. “We particularly need diverse decision-makers. We need people who understand those issues; we need people who have lived some of those issues themselves. We need interested, caring people to play a role in finding solutions to the really tough challenges we’re confronting.”
Ultimately, said Professor Wynne, young people should enter politics today because of the toxicity, not despite it. “Whether it’s homophobia, misogyny, racism or ableism, there are systemic barriers in place. If we make the decision not to get involved, we let these barriers defeat us.”
The lecture ended in a lively Q&A session with the audience. “What do you think are the best specific ways to get involved?” asked one student. “I think that it’s starting right in your own environment,” reflected Professor Wynne. “You can get involved in student organizations or student politics, raising your voice in situations where maybe your voice hasn’t been raised before.” Young people should look for the tables where decisions are being made, she continued. “Are they reflecting your views? If they’re not, maybe you’re somebody who can try to find a way to change that.”