Canada might be getting older, but today’s generation of young people is the largest in history. Nearly half of the world’s population (almost 3 billion) is under the age of 25. Most of these live in developing nations – countries struggling with poverty, lack of education and proper healthcare.

Almost everywhere you look across the developing world you see teeming cohorts of young people and they are beginning to make their presence felt, not always in ways that are comfortable. The Arab Spring was largely driven by a young generation out of patience with governing and financial elites refusing them opportunity.

It all makes a lot of sense when you realize she hundreds of millions of young live on less that $2 per day. Some 22.5% of the world’s young live in extreme poverty, on less than $1 per day. The young everywhere, and not just in Canada, are facing major challenges. About 85% of the world’s youth live in developing countries, with Asia attempting to manage 70% of that overall number.

It is one of the modern world’s most ironic narratives that the wealthy West is sagging and getting older, while the developing world is being engulfed with younger generations determined to make their presence felt.

For decades research has shown that if the world’s nations, rich and poor, don’t provide opportunity and quality education for their younger populations, then the possibilities for a peaceful future dim. Canada has traditionally understood this better than most countries and we had the wherewithal, both intellectually and financially, to work long and hard in developing countries on issues of education and productivity for the young. I have witnessed the significant change that historically happened in South America, Africa, and Asia because successive Canadian governments well understood that without youth development the world will only grow more troubled.

What happens, then, when our country fails to do it for their own? Our fastest growing young population in Canada is in our aboriginal communities and the efforts of successive Canadians governments for decades has lacked the commitment we have shown to other nations. In only the last few years this issue has become almost epidemic, with international human development envoys chastising the present government for refusing to effectively deal with the problem now that the issues are out clearly in the open. For a brief time there was hope that Paul Martin’s Kelowna Accord, supported by all provinces and territories and aboriginal leaders, would begin the human campaign of setting things straight, but the Conservatives turned it into a political campaign, humiliating the former PM and aboriginal leaders in the process.

But as these last few blogs have attempted to state, it’s no longer just our own aboriginal youth that the government is failing. Generation X and Generation Y are watching future prosperity recede farther into the distance with each passing year as politics runs manically after a voting public that is growing disenchanted and detached.

When you think about it, the fact that politics or democracy doesn’t work anymore isn’t so much a reason for abandoning democracy as it is for improving it. It is meant to be a system where the majority of people draw direct benefits, not just an elite few, and yet it is becoming increasingly narrowcast in a way in which its effects for the greater good are becoming more and more limited. People begin to lose respect for others, the system, and eventually themselves under a political regime that marginalizes their input and rewards only its friends.

Another trend also emerges when a political system grows overtly dysfunctional – those without power or money are increasingly pushed to the margins. Those with challenges of physical or mental access, lower-income individuals and families, aboriginal communities, the younger generation – these find less room to maneuver and progress in a democratic world that has forgotten its birthright.  In effect, the farther one is away from wealth and power, the farther they are removed from the abilities of democracy to affect their circumstances. In a phrase: democracy and its leaders no longer work for them.

The political system is meant to give us a share in ruling, but it’s precisely when we grow disengaged, disillusioned or distracted that we yield the playing surface to an elite few to govern us. To complain that our efforts have little effect is to partially acknowledge that we have lost our way as average citizens and that it is time to re-engage and bring back vibrancy to the entire system. Should we choose to merely blame the leaders and remain uninvolved, then it is in part we ourselves who have limited our own fate.

Younger generations worldwide comprehend the system isn’t working for them. Sadly, in Canada the X’ers and Y’ers expend more energy legitimately decrying the system but most often refuse to vote and change it. In so doing they leave their fate to an older generation that has yet to show it has the mettle to turn governance back towards public policy, the public space, and the public good.

In the next post we’ll consider how the Boomers missed that message and how they can work effectively for a younger generation that is making its presence increasingly felt. Oscar Wilde used to say that “youth is wasted on the young.” We have succeeded in turning that on its head – it is now wasted on the older generation. We now have a youthful generation old before its time, and an older one that never fully grew up and took responsibility for the future.