The Next Generation of Political Leaders: Following the results of the recent municipal election, reporter Erin Haluschak examines the shift of youth in local politics and the perspectives, challenges and ideas they will bring to their respective council tables. This is the second part of this feature series which began Nov. 25 with a look at Comox Valley young elected officials and the challenges and outlooks they have within the next four years.
When Rebecca Lennox first thought about running for municipal politics she knew as one of the youngest candidates, her age could be either a detriment or a positive factor in her campaign.
She was ready and willing to take that risk.
“It’s all about perspective,” said the first-time Courtenay councillor, who, along with David Frisch and Bob Wells, are some of the youngest members of the recently-elected Courtenay council.
“We are young, but we represent a growing demographic.”
Along with the trio in Courtenay who were all elected under age 40, Cumberland also faced a youth shift during the recent municipal election, with councillors Sean Sullivan and Jesse Ketler elected to represent the village.
It’s a shift which Lennox, 31, was hoping for, and while aware of some of the perceptions which come with a young elected official (“definitely experience comes with age”), she sought mentorship through past councillors and the Young Elected Officials Network.
Lennox attended a one-day workshop for any youth interested in entering the fall municipal election, and while there, noticed a large gap in the lack of youth representation in both the Comox Valley and Campbell River.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener,” she explained. “The population of Courtenay is growing and has a changing demographic. In the past, I didn’t feel like participating (in politics) would be achievable …. (but the workshop) takes away the fear and mystery in politics.”
She said while some people may feel a young councillor may not properly represent the needs of all citizens, it’s just not true.
“All of us have concerns for all citizens; our parents are seniors, and our generation is concerned for that demographic. Our peers are facing big issues such as affordable housing.”
While she would like to think there aren’t any age-related challenges she and her peers will face, she added during the election campaign, she was faced with a reoccurring question: would she cry if a vote didn’t go her way?
“I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a young female, but I got asked that six times,” she added.
Although his first foray into politics was at age 19 in Salmon Arm running for council, first time councillor Bob Wells, 41, acknowledged there is a lot of value in youth involved in politics.
“It’s useful to have the energy and passion about issues and not be told how things should be done,” he explained, but also doesn’t believe age will be an issue at the council table.
He did note, however, there is a perception that young politicians have to prove themselves.
“There is the idea that a person might not have the appropriate experience,” he said, and added his attitude towards life when faced with a challenge — “I don’t know if I can do that yet” — will translate to council.
“I don’t have that inhibition — my decisions will be based on fact, not based on fear.”
For David Frisch, he believes the shift in younger elected officials at the council table can bring a fresh perspective to politics.
“We may have a slightly different viewpoint, maybe we see things longer term, but we see things differently,” he said.
He sees topics such as the environment, climate change and social issues are subjects which affect youth more directly, but doesn’t see age being a challenge.
While he explained anyone willing to learn can succeed, Frisch, 36, added during campaigning the issue of his family values and responsibility was questioned.
“A lot of people asked about the balance — if my family was prepared to accept seeing me less, and I can’t say that’s not partially true,” he said.
“If I was a single guy in my 20s, I might not have gotten those questions.”
Frisch said while he is confident he won’t face any age-related bullying at council or political conferences, he does see many advantages to youth at council.
He said young elected officials can bring an open-style of politics to the council table, and they’re not as entrenched or connected to the old economic model.
“We can look outside those set of rules; there’s new perspectives. (Youth) break down the left-right political spectrum,” said Frisch.
“We find those (political) perspectives are quickly not applying and are polarizing people.”