In the last federal election, only 37 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 voted. Trudeau said he hopes they will come out in larger numbers this time.
“Young people would rather join Me to We, or Greenpeace or Amnesty International than sign up to be a member of a political party,” he said in an interview. “That can change because as young people start voting, they start making their voices heard and therefore their concerns matter in a very real way to politicians.
“Politicians will start responding to those issues.”
Derek Lee, who stepped down after 23 years as the riding’s MP, was also supporting Sarkar’s campaign.
“In some ways, my departure and his arrival is a very conspicuous generational change that reflects the importance of youth participation in politics,” Lee said.
Sarkar, former president and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council, stressed how important it was for youth and new Canadians to vote.
“It’s such an amazing thing when you go to someone’s door and they say, ‘I just became a citizen, this is the first time I’m going to vote,’ ” he said.
As a student, Sarkar worked with Lee and credits the experience for his interest in politics.
“The most important set of skills that I learned in all of that time came of this foundational period of working with Derek,” he said. “These are learning how to turn ideas into real things and that’s what you learn when you get engaged in politics.”
Trudeau, the Grit candidate for the Quebec riding of Papineau, pitched the Liberal Learning Passport to the students, many of whom told him they would vote in this election.
“A thousand dollars a year for four years for every student attending university or vocational school or college; $1,500 a year for kids from low-income families — that is to help families cover the costs of higher education,” Trudeau said.
“Young people can become those powerful elements of the knowledge economy we need them to be.”
York University student Vithusan Ramachandran said he wants to know what the new government will offer to young Canadians.
“What will they do about taxes, student debt and job employment?” Ramachandran said. “How are they going to make progress without fighting each other?”
Trudeau also took a dig at the Conservative government, calling it the most secretive, controlling, vindictive and manipulative government Canada has ever had.
“When RCMP officers kick kids out of Conservative rallies because of pictures on their Facebook that show them with Michael Ignatieff, that’s an abuse of power,” he said. “That is un-Canadian.”
Sarkar, Lee and Trudeau also answered questions from the audience on youth participation and encouraged them to “just get out and vote.”