Liberal MP John McCallum spoke with students about youth politics, education, the economy, and other issues at a UTM Young Liberals event last Tuesday in the Davis Building.

About 30 students, staff, and members of UTM’s Young Liberals attended the event. The forum was informal; McCallum stated at the beginning that he would rather answer questions and engage students directly on the issues than make a speech.

McCallum—an economist, noted academic, university professor, and former cabinet minister—talked about why youth issues are a priority for the Liberal party.

“Jim Flaherty calls me an ‘endangered species’. I’m the last Liberal MP in the whole 905 region,” McCallum said in reference to the dismal Liberal turnout in the last election.

Calling youth engagement a major strategy for the Liberal party, McCallum cited the key issues driven by youth in politics. Some highlights of the discussion were the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, education and student debt, and the struggling labour market for graduates.

“But you need to vote,” said McCallum. “Your parents vote more than you. You need to make sure you are all voting too. You need to vote if you want issues you care about featured.” He added that young people should vote for the party that represents them, since their issues are often unpopular with adults.

McCallum talked briefly about his background in politics, saying his proudest moment was serving as defence minister under Jean Chrétien when Canada opposed the war in Iraq.

As a professor of economics (he received his PhD from McGill) and Royal Bank of Canada’s former chief economist, he also spoke about Canada’s economy in the global context.

“When Harper and the government say the Canadian economy is doing relatively well, I agree,” said McCallum. “A lot of that has to do with the economy he inherited and our natural resources.”

Students posed a variety of questions to the seasoned politician following his 15-minute opening statement, mostly concerning the virtues and feasibility of Canada’s involvement in foreign aid. In his response, he praised the merits of foreign aid and mentioned his personal belief that it should continue if managed effectively.

The topic then shifted to the Liberal leadership race and Justin Trudeau’s recent bid for leadership.

“He has received more coverage in the past few weeks than others receive their whole campaigns,” McCallum observed. “I think Justin is in a good position to help unite the country and build on our national unity while the Conservatives are focussing on provincial devolution.”

McCallum also had an opportunity to address his take on American politics. “Obama was terrible and not effective,” he said. “He should have brought up Romney’s 47% comment.” Despite his reservations, McCallum said that he hoped Obama would win another term, adding that it would be best for Canada.

McCallum answered questions for around two hours and reiterated his interest in connecting with and engaging youth, which he says is a central aspect of the Liberal Party’s rebuilding strategy.