“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” (Jack Layton)

In Canada, there is a low turnout of young voters. In fact, according to a 2008 study done by Elections Canada, only 38 percent of young people are heading to the polls to vote.

Stefan Epp, 26, a Winnipegger who attends Home Street Mennonite Church, thinks this is because young people may feel alienated or disconnected from politics or politicians. But he says the late Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, had a remarkable ability to rally forces to work together from different age groups, political parties and regions of Canada.

Emily Dueck, 27, from Toronto United Mennonite Church, agrees. She has often been cynical about politicians, especially Conservative politicians. Prior to Layton assuming the leadership of the NDP, Dueck says she thought of politicians as a bit dishonest and that their agenda included “not standing up for those who are on the margins, looking out for big businesses and corporations, their economic standing in the world, and not looking out for the needs of regular citizens.”

But Layton made a big impression on her, so much so that she stood in line for nine hours to attend his funeral in Toronto. “I think Jack renewed a hope in a lot of us, that there is a possibility that our well-being as Canadian citizens is important and that our voices can be heard,” she says.

On issues such as the environment, healthcare, poverty, housing shortages and militarism, the government has not done what is best for those on the margins of society, these young people believe.

“They have gone from a world leader to a world disgrace,” Epp says of Canada’s environmental record.

And for Dueck, who works at a drop-in centre in Toronto that Mennonite Central Committee runs, the bulk of the homeless and impoverished people she works with do not vote at all because they don’t think their vote counts.

Epp and Dueck believe that Layton may have inspired young people and others who would never have voted, to vote for change. “My hope is that young people can imagine a better world, and work for a better world within the current political system,” Epp says. “There is a possible route to creating the change they want to see in the world.”

While it is evident that Layton’s words inspired Canadians, as many people attended his funeral or watched it on television, Epp and Dueck hope that his words will motivate young people to go to the polls and to continue to call on the government to do more and behave in ways that are socially just.

With provincial elections coming up in both Manitoba and Ontario in October, Epp hopes that Layton’s message of hope and social change will motivate young people to be involved politically at the provincial level as well.