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“Your Vote Is Your Voice” | A Conversation with 3 Young BC Candidates

Note: A link to an interactive map to find out where to vote and information on your riding, candidates and how to vote is found here.

The Takeaway: A British Columbia snap election was called a year early, giving B.C. voters only 5 weeks to make up their minds on who is best suited to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement came on the heels of New Brunswick’s then-minority Conservative government calling a snap election in the middle of the pandemic, to see their bet pay off with a majority conservative victory. This is something British Columbia’s current NDP minority government appears to be hoping to recreate.

In the 2019 federal election, voter turnout for young people aged 18-34 increased slightly from 2015, but in BC specifically, that number decreased by 3%. That is not looking to be the case in this upcoming provincial election as dozens of candidates under 40 are running, some in competitive races.

  • 71% of Canadians agree that political parties should nominate more qualified younger candidates in places where they actually have a chance of getting elected.
  • Half of all job losses in B.C. due to COVID-19 are from young people under 30 with a staggering 38 per cent coming from young people under 25.

I spoke to three young candidates from three of the main political parties running in the October 24 election to talk about why they’re involved, and why you should be too.

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Jaeden Dela Torre, 19, BC NDP Candidate for Richmond North Centre

In what is considered dominant Conservative and Liberal territory, this is not the first time that Dela Torre has ran in an election. Dela Torre is looking to make a breakthrough in this highly competitive riding, which 338Canada has listed as a “toss up” – meaning this race could go down to the wire, potentially giving Dela Torre the chance to be the youngest MLA elected in BC’s history.

“Richmond has been seen as like a traditional conservative, safe home, whether it’s federal or provincial. I think that’s partially part of the reason why I see so much excitement on the ground is because young people are getting excited about the ideas, they’re getting excited about voting for the first time, as well as the fact that there are also multiple young people who are running,” he says.

Dela Torre, an advocate for affordable housing and post-secondary affordability, made it clear this was a priority for him.

“A lot of young people are worried about being able to move out at some point and education is expensive. A lot of people my age are finding it unnecessary to go to post-secondary and are finding a job anyways, because school is so expensive to afford.”

Richmond, like many other areas in Metro Vancouver, is among the hardest hit areas from the national housing crisis, something Dela Torre won’t be satisfied with until things are dramatically improved for Richmonders:

We’re still dealing with the housing crisis.”

“I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to do, but there is so much more to be done.”

One thing that was obvious from our conversation was that Dela Torre’s youth was not going be a liability in this election, but a way to drive young Canadians to the polls.

“If you want to make change, you have to be proactive about it. I understand people my age are a bit cynical but if you really want to see change happen, you can’t just stand on the sidelines, you have to make young people inspired.”

Norine Shim, 36, BC Green Candidate for Burnaby North

Norine Shim, a first-generation Canadian, grew up as an at-risk youth. This experience, shared by so many underrepresented groups in Burnaby, has made her want to carry those voices to the legislature. Shim’s push to get involved in politics is what drives her to campaign for young voices every day of the campaign trail.

“I came from a really difficult home situation and I was so supported by my community. I was given leadership opportunities through a municipally founded youth organization, and really, those are the reasons why I’ve been able to reach the station in life that I have. And I feel now that after breaking free of the cubicle and becoming a small business owner, I have the bandwidth now to be able to give back to my community in a much bigger way,” she says.

Before becoming a small business owner, Shim was the Executive Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer for the City of Vancouver. Prior to her professional life, she was a youth leader in her community. As a teen she ran and organized “Youth Week” for 100 teens, recently volunteering with Gladstone Secondary School to implement a work experience program and delivering food to families during COVID-19.

These are experiences young people can relate to and have continued to push Shim’s efforts to ensure young Canadians are more involved.

“We are not just one person, we can affect change, we can put our voices together and demand that were heard and demand for change.”

Look at Greta Thunberg, she is just one voice. But she had enough voices behind her that she was able to get some real attention and change some really deeply ingrained issues.

Shim is getting to work advocating for Burnaby’s environment in the face of some of the biggest issues in this election:

“The TMX pipeline is running directly through our backyard and that’s going to see a large increase in tanker traffic, increasing the chance of there being an oil spill exponentially. Teenagers don’t want to be working on a pipeline, they want to have secure jobs that are in a clean technology sector, because it’s a growing sector and it’s one that’s increasing in demand and there’s so much room for innovation.”

Cole Anderson, 26, BC Liberal Candidate for Vancouver Kingsway

Cole Anderson faces a tough race, but as a young person who has always been passionate about politics and getting youth involved, he is looking to stir up the race against 15 year incumbent and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“40% of Canadians feel alienated from political government and institutions. They don’t feel they can trust their political institutions and for young people between 18 and 34, that numbers north of 55%,” he says.

Anderson is concerned about youth distrust in the political system, but this isn’t the only issue that he hears from young people in Vancouver-Kingsway.

Anderson says affordability is an issue for young people, and this is huge dilemma for young drivers.

“We have an ICBC issue right now in British Columbia, where young drivers are paying absorbent rates for their auto insurance. We’ve seen over 50% increases in the last three years, and I’ve talked to folks that have said they wanted to move to Alberta to go and get their insurance, because it’s their next highest cost to rent. It’s just not sustainable for young people right now in the province.”

Another issue Anderson points to is the ‘opioid epidemic’ – a concerning trend, raised by countless BC officials of high levels of opioid use.

“The overdose opioid epidemic is a public safety consequence and we need a treatment and recovery strategy that is actually funded and focused on both causes and harm prevention, these are all issues that affect young people.”

Deaths just from drug overdoses in BC alone are higher than deaths from COVID-19, suicides, car crashes and homicides combined. An issue that certainly affects young people which Anderson is using to motivate young people to get involved in politics:

“I want to encourage people to go out and vote, encourage people to understand the issues to delve into the policy points, to look into themselves and try to determine what’s important for them.”

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The Legislature Needs New Perspectives

Throughout an intense campaign period that has witnessed some disgusting campaign rhetoric and slander, a point of emphasis was when a BC Liberal candidate made sexist remarks towards BC NDP MLA Bowinn Ma on a zoom call with several other BC Liberal candidates, including the BC Liberal Leader, Andrew Wilkinson.

This is another example of barriers female candidates and specifically young women of colour face when entering politics, explains Shim.

“When I started making my social media accounts public, I was flooded with men who were sending me inappropriate messages, and I thought there was no way that my male counterparts are going through this. There is no way that they’re spending up to an hour every night, trying to vet every single social media file because they are sending me pictures I don’t want, they’re sending me messages I don’t want.”

Shim made it clear that these lived experiences are the type of perspectives that need to be in the legislature.

“I’m able to take those types of experiences into the legislature so that when I’m speaking for my constituents, I’m bringing so much more value to their voices. Because it’s coming out of somebody with lived experience, I think it’s the reason why we need more diversity in politics and it’s the reason we need more representation.”

Her message to other candidates facing barriers which create doubt upon entering politics is that lived experiences give you what it takes to be a leader.

“To those women out there, to those minorities, I want those people to know that you can do it, you can accept them on the first ask, because just by virtue of who you are, you’ve dealt with very different lived experiences than others. And the strength that it takes to come out unscathed on the other side of that is the same strength that you would need to apply to becoming a leader in politics.”

Dela Torre, a first generation Filipino-Canadian, also talks about why it is so important for politics to be diverse, so that young Canadians can see themselves represented.

“Representation is being able to see yourself in that field. It’s that thing when you’re like a kid and you watch a superhero movie. For me, like I always said, I want to be Superman or Batman, but it was always a subconscious answer. Like it would be weird for me to like kind of believe in that because it’s like all the superheroes are predominantly white guys. So, it was hard for me to see that reflection like “Will there ever be like a Filipino Batman?””

He mentions that growing up he would often be met with adults and teachers invalidating his experiences, something he likens to the systemic nature of institutions in Canada.

“Validating people’s opinions and feelings are so important. Regardless of the political party there needs to be better efforts for recruiting and encouraging candidates from groups like the LGBTQ2+ community, women of colour, persons with disabilities, there needs to be better outreach and encouragement for them to run.”

Campaigning in COVID-19

COVID-19 is requiring campaigns to adapt to be innovative, socially-distanced and, crucially, digital. As a result, it has revived a conversation around politics being overly dominated by older people and shows the inclusion of young people is minimal.

With an increasing number of younger candidates, candidates who have grown up with the internet and social media, it begs the question: do younger candidates have an advantage when it comes to campaigning in an increased virtual environment?

Anderson agrees that with the growing importance of social media in politics, young people can play an impactful role in an election that is so abnormal.

“Young people are growing up with social media and I think it’s important to realize that young people are very literate on those mediums… I think that really kind of goes down to our fundamental approach of how we want to deal with young people, focusing on understanding their needs, supporting their goals, and targeting legislation that actually affects young people,” he says.

Dela Torre agrees that an advantage for younger candidates is very evident in this election.

“I feel like my age does give me that advantage because I’ve already adapted to using all this stuff. It basically translates into a campaign format.”

Youth Demand Reconciliation

With mobs attacking Indigenous fisheries in Nova Scotia and controversial anti-Indigenous comments made by multiple candidates in the provincial election, the issue of reconciliation has been a part of the mainstream election conversation. This is prompting young candidates and BC youth to continue advocating for more action when it comes to reconciliation.

BC became the first government in North America to legislate UNDRIP, something Shim says is just the bare minimum.

“Reconciliation means we need to solve the root cause of issues and we need to give Indigenous people back the ability to be the stewards of the land because they have been the environmental stewards of their territories,” she says.

Anderson believes that the provincial government coming through on their commitments outlined in UNDRIP is one way to achieving reconciliation.

“I think that one important factor is to understand how we need to foster this reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members through honouring Indigenous culture and tradition, through incorporation and presenting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.”

Youth Cynical About Politics

With a snap election called a year earlier than scheduled, many are pointing out this move is another example of political capitalization on government popularity in the polls, which means sacrificing diversity and representation in an election.

“The snap election has ensured there is less diversity in candidates because instead of 6 months to prepare we only have 5 weeks. If we truly want to see more diverse representation in politics, we need to ensure that in this election we are saying that party-backed candidates have the same opportunity as grassroots candidates,” Shim states.

Anderson points again to the lack of trust and cynicism that young people already have with politics as evidence a snap election will negatively contribute to that distrust with young Canadians:

“People don’t feel engaged in their political system. And for us, it’s been very interesting because it’s not a typical election. We didn’t have months in advance to be able to prepare campaigns for a COVID-19 election. These kind of things like snap elections continue to erode trust in our government and makes it extremely difficult to be able to campaign.”

Bottom Line

The message from these three candidates is clear; young people must get involved in their communities and in politics. If they are the leaders of tomorrow, then our future is bright, and ultimately, that process starts by using the ultimate voice to enact change: voting.

A link to an interactive map to find out where to vote and information on your riding, candidates and how to vote is found here.