While studying at Dalhousie, Chris McCluskey earned a broad political education, encompassing both the lessons learned from his political science classes and while serving as DSU’s vice president student life.
Now, he's sharing those lessons with the next generation of politically-minded students. Mr. McCluskey is the organizer of a three-day seminar taking place at Dalhousie this weekend titled “Student Activism and Political Engagement.”
“Our goal with this conference is to teach students how to plan for political participation and to further their own personal goals,” he explains. “Students want to be involved in political life, but don’t always know how to place themselves into it. We want to set them on the right path, provide them with a framework for their aspirations.”
Mr. McCluskey, who graduated with a B.A. from Dalhousie in 2004, now works as a program coordinator with the Manning Centre, a not-for-profit organization started by Reform Party of Canada founder Preston Manning with the goal of preparing Canadians for principled participation in democratic politics. This is the fourth seminar on student activism that the centre has hosted nationwide and the first in Atlantic Canada.
“Being involved in government and democratic politics is incredibly important, and the sooner young people can get a sense of what they can accomplish, the better,” said Mr. Manning, who spoke to Dal News while on his way to a speaking engagement in Jasper, Alberta. “(At university,) people are in a formative stage … it’s a great time to explore the front-end of political life.”
“We learn a lot from these seminars as well,” he continues. “A lot of the concern we have is the question of why political participation is so low among young people. My thesis is that it’s not that younger people don’t have interests, it’s just that they’re different, and it’s our job to try and understand them.”
While Mr. Manning is unable to attend the Dalhousie seminar due to prior engagements, an impressive line-up of local and national figures will network with students from across the Atlantic Provinces about the political opportunities in campus life and beyond. Dalhousie connections abound amongst the presenters, including graduates John MacDonell, who now serves as Chief of Staff for the Ministry of National Defence, and Jessica Maga, legislative assistant in the office of MP Daryl Kramp.
Session topics include creating successful campus clubs, learning communications and advocacy skills, and exploring the role new media such as blogs are playing in political activism. The weekend concludes on Sunday with a presentation from Bernard Lord, former premier of New Brunswick, on developing a plan for political participation.
For his part, Mr. McCluskey hopes participants are encouraged to take an active role in both campus and public life: “We want people to be inspired by what they whatever it is that they believe in and learn how to act on it.”
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