Time for youth to dip their feet into politics

With five Oakville mayoral candidates this year, not one was under the age of 50.

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Time for youth to dip their feet into politics
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Matthew Cosman

Matthew Cosman

Matthew Cosman is a freelance journalist who lives in Oakville, Ontario. He is a graduate of Sheridan College's Print Journalism Program.

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Anyone who has talked to youth about politics knows it can feel like you’re talking to a wall. Everybody has an opinion, and that comes with the right to share it. But to people in the 18-to-24 bracket, they feel their’s doesn’t matter, and that has led to a lack of interest among young people to actively participate in the electoral process.

Modern politics is not youth-friendly, turning off a lot of young people. If you choose to run for a position, you’re going up against people with a plethora of resources and double the life experience. There were only five candidates for mayor this year, and none under the age of 50.

Mayoral candidate Gordon Brennan

Mayoral candidate Gordon Brennan

One of the most common excuses is that youth think it’s impossible for them to win. But Oakville mayoral candidate Gordon Brennan says that being young doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance. With enough knowledge and a serious drive to make a change, it is possible for young people get that opportunity.

“You’re going to learn fast – that’s the whole point. You don’t have to take years and years to learn. You can do it quickly,” he said. “You don’t have to have the experience now, you can gain it over time.”

While Brennan encourages young people to get involved, he says it must be for the right reasons.

“If you’re going to get into politics in your mid-20s, for the money or the power, I think you won’t last very long,” he said. “You might succeed, but it’ll be short-term.

“If you said to me, ‘why should I get into the political sphere?’ I would say, ‘to gain some valuable experiences in the short term, and in the long term, to make a difference. And you can make a difference, if you’re not in it only for power, money and fame.”

While some youth are still getting used to the idea of voting, others have taken a more proactive approach by getting involved directly.

Rajan Sandhu

Rajan Sandhu ran as a candidate in Oakville for School Board Trustee

At 25, Ward 4 School Board Trustee candidate Rajan Sandhu was one of the youngest participants this past election. With a business and law degree under his belt, Sandhu says he can offer an accurate representation of what people in his age bracket are looking for in a leader.

“During my campaign, I had a lot of high-school volunteers working with me. A lot of them told me that they sometimes feel that their voices aren’t heard,” he said. “The issues that I brought up with them, they definitely had an opinion on. Those are our future leaders, so that’s why I really feel that they should be getting more involved in the political system.”

With running a campaign comes expenses, and that can hit hard on young people. To run for mayor of Oakville, you must be at least 18 years old and able to write a $200 cheque to the Town of Oakville. Oakville’s incumbent mayor Rob Burton had a $114,000 budget for his campaign. To put that into perspective, Brennan said he had already reached his budget of $10,000 by early October. With the burden of student debt and the lack of lucrative work available to youth, running a competitive campaign can look like a tall task.

The inability to run a good campaign is just one problem. To politically inexperienced youth, the cut-throat style can be intimidating.

Enlisting the help of family, friends and volunteers is a great way to give young candidates an extra boost to keep them motivated. Also, youth can use their expertise in technology to give them an advantage over older candidates. They’ll find it’s affordable as well. Social media savvy and video-making skills can be a huge asset.

“I’ve got some technology behind me, but not enough,” said Brennan. “I’ve seen kids do things that would be insurmountable 20 years ago.

“Youth has new ideas. Youth has fresh ideas. Bring them to the table.” With these advantages and a spirited fresh mind, a young person can be attractive to voters.

“People see that you’re energetic and you are committed at a young age, so that is a big advantage,” said Sandhu. “The disadvantage is because of your youth, some people think you don’t have the experience or the ability. But that’s when people should just look at your credentials and what you are capable of doing… Age is just a number.”

“Youth has new ideas. Youth has fresh ideas. Bring them to the table,” said Gordon Brennan, a 2014 Oakville mayoral candidate.

For the youth who want to shed light on their issues, there is no better way than through the political system. “The biggest complaint I’ve heard so far is people feel that they’re not being heard at certain levels, or that there’s a lack of communication and transparency,” said Sandhu. “If there’s any change that we want to see or any issues that are of concern, the only way your voice will be heard is through the political process.

“A lot of people have given me a really positive view of it. Some people say it’s great to see young people more involved and that’s what we really need.”

The political youth movement must start at the voting booth. In the 2011 Canadian federal election, the 18-to-24 bracket only had a 38.8-per cent voter turnout. The national average that year was 61.1 per cent. Surprisingly, this was a slight bump up from the 2008 turnout.

From 1988 to 2008, voter turnout among youth has steadily decreased with each federal election.

But consider that only the 50-to-54 (7.8 per cent) and 55-to-59 (7.2 per cent) age groups make up a higher percentage of Canada’s population than the 20-to-24 bracket (7 per cent). Suddenly, things don’t look so hopeless. But if youth doesn’t use their power in numbers at the voting booth, they can’t expect anything to change.

This may not be the year, but the youth movement is trending in the right direction. Sandhu has enjoyed the experience, receiving positive feedback. “There are the odd people that you run across when you’re going door-to-door who claim that you’re too young, but sometimes they just base that off of looks,” he said. “Age really doesn’t matter, it’s really the impact that you can make in something.”

Sandhu placed third in the Ward 4 School Board Trustee vote with roughly 18 per cent of votes. Joanna Oliver, 45, was elected with 44 per cent of the votes.

In Ward 4, 24-year-old Brandon Jones, also running for School Board Trustee, raked in about 35 per cent of votes, but lost to his only competitor, the incumbent Trustee, 49-year-old Ann Harvey Hope.

Sandhu encourages all young people who want to get involved to take the initiative and start with small steps. “Whatever the outcome of the election, it’s a great way to get involved in your own community.”


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Readers Comments (1)

  1. John McLaughlin says:

    Neither modern “politics” nor modern “living” caters to youthful interests. Unchecked, “old guard” legacies of debt, overspending and environmental mismanagement will further disenfranchise the youth and all of us.

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