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.
Joe Clark did it at age 33. Justin Trudeau did it at 36. Courtenay councillor-elect Bob Wells first did it at 19.
All three made their entrance into politics at a young age, and based upon the results from this month’s municipal election, they aren’t the only ones.
With a hashtag #HeyThereNextGeneration, young politicians across Vancouver Island — including those in the Comox Valley — are coming together with social media and in person, to rise to the challenge of becoming the next generation of political leaders.
Following the Nov.15 election, two out of four elected officials in Cumberland and three out of six councillors in Courtenay are under the age of 45 — a really exciting shift in representation, says Jennifer Millbank, a councillor for the district of Lantzville and one of the members behind the Young Elected Officials Network.
The network is a group of self-identified youth on Vancouver Island who are elected to local government, or allies of the network.
“(In election time) the focus sometimes is on good ideas that someone should do it. For those people under 40, you can do it, and there’s people to help with that task,” explains Millbank. “When there is bullying and derogation (for youth) at the council table, and we’re acting as a support network.”
She adds the idea to create the group began in 2012, when she attended the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Victoria and quickly realized there were no youth-oriented sessions scheduled.
At the 2013 Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ convention, Millbank says a group of young local government representatives gathered informally, after noticing many elected officials were of retirement age.
“(The intention) was not to be constructed as us against them, but the representation of our demographic is not great. There are issues that younger people have which are not brought to the council table,” she explains. “For many (older elected officials), they are at a different place in life with different life experiences. When planning for a community, you need to have all voices heard.”
Lennox attended workshop
This past January, Millbank helped organize a workshop in Lantzville for any youth interested in entering the fall’s municipal election, which caught the attention of Courtenay councillor-elect Rebecca Lennox.
“I had been talking about entering local politics for one time, and my friend sent a link (to the network) on Facebook. There was some hesitation because the general design in politics is quite disengaging with specific language and formalities that a lot of working class people aren’t used to,” Lennox says.
Lennox added that attending the workshop took away a lot of the fear and mystery surrounding politics, and established a support network.
“The connections you make takes away the prestige and elevated view of politics. The people were all very supportive and you work as a team. It makes it not feel as isolating.”
The workshop brought people from across the Island, and focused on topics such as how to win a political race, communication in difficult circumstances and community representation.
Millbank says it’s hard to find the resources on how to run a successful campaign, particularly for young candidates.
“Every community is different, but it’s a challenge, especially if you’re all alone… It’s really nice to have a support network.”
For more information on the Young Elected Officials Network, visit www.youngelected.ca, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
The second part of this feature series continues Dec. 2 with a look at Comox Valley young elected officials, and the challenges and outlooks they have within the next four years.