Pearson: Young activists find new path to politics

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“As a young woman, I am encouraged to be a leader, to explore my passions and I am given the opportunities to affect lasting, positive change,” says 22-year-old Erika Lashbrook Knutson as one of the reasons why she is so effusive about Canada.

She is now out to build on that advantage.

What is refreshing about her approach is just how much she believes that politics is important to her belief in the Canadian journey.

In a time when many are concerned that politics is incapable of surmounting the great challenges of the day, Lashbrook has not only moved in the other direction but is taking her belief out in something of a test drive regarding the effects of citizen activism.

And its personal. As the stepdaughter of well-known Londoner Doug Ferguson, she had her own world rocked when a failed liver transplant left him on death’s door. Short of another liver being made available within 24 hours there was little hope.

Miraculously he held on for four more days until a liver was located and his life spared. Ferguson, director of Community Legal Services at Western University and recipient of the faculty of law’s Alumnus of Distinction Award and the Access to Justice Award from the Middlesex Law Association, is once again free to participate and bring his considerable skill to community life.

The effects on Knutson were transformational. Life had become more meaningful but also more compelling.

She got to work studying how the organ donation system works in Canada, and was alarmed to learn that the same year of Ferguson’s surgery (2014), 278 people of the 4,500 on waiting lists died in Canada.

She didn’t have far to look for a cause and took to politics to address it. Her timing couldn’t be more vital.

Canada is falling behind other developed nations, like the United States and Spain, where our national rate is below 30 per cent. Ontario is at 30 per cent but other provinces haven’t even reached that level, with some as low as 10 per cent. The consequences of numbers this low are tragic.

With so many people on waiting lists for such procedures, it is ironic that only one-third of Canadians have registered to have their organs donated upon death. This has been known for years, but with the advances in medical science and the increasing possibilities of success, Knutson figures it’s time for a change.

Her solution? Petition the federal government to form a special committee, a task force even, review the practice of other nations to increase donor registration, and then urge our government to take action based on knowledge learned. It’s more about educating Canadians at large regarding the opportunities than about any legislation being passed.

Knutson’s petition on the Canadian Parliament’s e-petition website has already garnered over 500 signatures and remains open until October. It will be presented sometime during the fall session of Parliament. Claiming that she and Ferguson are both “political nerds,” it was inevitable that their efforts would transcend their own personal story.

Abacus Data’s 2016 report, titled The Next Canada, revealed that among young Canadians there has been something of a stir in political interest in recent years.

The secret to that involvement, as political parties must increasingly discover, is not so much to get younger Canadians to accept party policies, but for policy makers to engage in those issues young minds feel are most vital. Knutson is showing London — and Ottawa — just how to go about it. She has engaged her community on what she terms “my motivation,” and is then drawing federal political representatives to her campaign.

As younger Canadians see their issues better represented in politics, it will inevitably result in a renewed country, much of it driven by the passion, intelligence and activism of younger citizens. Only by listening and working with people like Erika Lashbrook Knutson can Canadian politics itself find its own new passions for the challenges of the future.

Glen Pearson is co-director of the London Food Bank and a former Liberal MP for the riding of London North Centre.

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