Zachary Le­Shane is pas­sion­ate about pol­i­tics

North Shore teen a fer­vent de­fender of govern­ment; as­pires to be premier

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BYMELISSA JENK­INS

It’s 2003 and five-year-old Zachary Le­Shane is lis­ten­ing to po­lit­i­cal ban­ter on the ra­dio in the play­house be­hind his home in Gull Is­land, a tiny com­mu­nity on the north shore of Con­cep­tion Bay.

He’s try­ing to fi­nal­ize his pre­dic­tions for the out­come of the up­com­ing pro­vin­cial elec­tion, know­ing in his heart that the f lam­boy­ant Danny Wil­liams, leader of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party, will un­seat the Lib­er­als and their leader, then premier Roger Grimes.

Loose pieces of pa­per are taped to the walls, cov­er­ing the small “head­quar­ters” like wall­pa­per, and there’s a binder filled with notes placed next to Zachary.

The 48 sheets on the walls rep­re­sent each elec­toral dis­trict, and are colour-coded in blue (PC), red (Lib­eral) and or­ange (NDP), each colour re­flect­ing the party cur­rently hold­ing the seat.

On each sheet, Zachary has scrib­bled his pre­dic­tion of what party will win. In­side the binder are more sheets of pa­per with more pre­dic­tions and de­tails on each in­di­vid­ual dis­trict.

It’s like a mini-war room, but in this case the gen­eral is still in pri­mary school.

The strate­giz­ing and an­a­lyz­ing, how­ever, is in­ter­rupted by a knock on the door. It’s Char­lene John­son, a po­lit­i­cal new­comer and can­di­date for the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives in the dis­trict of Trin­ity-Bay de Verde.

It’s John­son’s first in­tro­duc­tion to this young po­lit­i­cal up­start, and she’s hardly pre­pared for what greets her as she ducks her head and walks in­side.

“My dad (Ron­ald) was with me that day, and we still talk about it,” John­son re­called dur­ing an in­ter­view on Dec. 16. “He spent a lot of time out there with the ra­dio on, lis­ten­ing to the po­lit­i­cal chat­ter.”

That en­counter was the be­gin­ning of a very close friend­ship that con­tin­ues to this day.

John­son went on to eas­ily win the d istrict, mak­ing her t he youngest fe­male to ever earn a seat in the House of As­sem­bly, and the Tories swept into power.

Zachary’s pre­dic­tions were spot on, and his love for pol­i­tics was ce­mented.

Now 16, Zachary is a val­ued youth mem­ber of the PC Party, and is on a first-name ba­sis with most of the govern­ment mem­bers, in­clud­ing Premier Kathy Dun­derdale.

He’s well-versed on many of the most im­por­tant is­sues fac­ing the prov­ince today, in­clud­ing the mas­sive hy­dro­elec­tric project at Muskrat Falls. And in an­other ex­am­ple of his po­lit­i­cal as­tute­ness, he’s also di­gested ev­ery de­tail of the Lib­eral Red Book, which de­tails that party’s plat­form.

He freely makes his opin­ions known on so­cial me­dia such as Twit­ter and Face­book, where he fer­vently de­fends the record of the gov­ern­ing Tories.

He also played an im­por­tant role in John­son’s re-elec­tion in 2011.

“He knocked on doors with me, helped with fundrais­ing, the cam­paign, web de­sign and looked at my brochures,” John­son ex­plained.

It’s not the typ­i­cal pursuits of a 16-year-old, at a time when more and more young peo­ple are tun­ing out of pol­i­tics.

When asked why she took an in­ter­est in Zachary, she didn’t even need to think about it.

“When we see that ( kind of in­volve­ment), we need to take it, em­brace it and en­cour­age it,” John­son said. “He’s a re­ally well-rounded in­di­vid­ual.”

In­ter­ests earned top spot

Zachary is not only a po­lit­i­cal en­thu­si­ast. He is in­volved with many or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing 295 Bac­calieu sea cadets in Old Per­li­can.

For the past four years, Zachary has com­peted at the an­nual pro­vin­cial cadet pub­lic speak­ing com­pe­ti­tion, which is open to air, army and sea cadets.

In pre­vi­ous years, Zachary spoke on top­ics such as bul­ly­ing, out­mi­gra­tion and Muskrat Falls. His topic this year? Can me­dia ma­nip­u­late our view­point.

His pre­sen­ta­tion took top spot in the se­nior di­vi­sion

“I be­lieve he could be MHA in the dis­trict some­day.” — Char­lene John­son

Zachary blew many peo­ple away with his speech in the pre­lim­i­nar­ies and semi-fi­nals held at Gon­zaga High School, and again dur­ing the f in­als at HMCS Cabot Naval Re­serve Sta­tion, both in St. John’s, be­cause of his con­fi­dent de­liv­ery.

His strong and pas­sion­ate words painted a pic­ture of how he be­lieves the me­dia has in­cor­rectly por­trayed the cur­rent pro­vin­cial govern­ment, giv­ing ref­er­ence to Bill 29 and Muskrat Falls.

His speech drew words of praise and en­cour­age­ment from fam­ily and friends on so­cial me­dia.

Zachary posted a recorded video of the speech on Face­book, prompt­ing MHA for Terra Nova Sandy Collins to call him, “im­pres­sive.”

Vimy pil­grim­age award

Only a week af­ter get­ting hon­oured with the first place award for the speak-off, Zachary re­ceived other ex­cit­ing news.

In April 2014, he will join 20 other Cana­dian stu­dents — only one other, Vic­to­ria Jack­man, from New­found­land and Labrador — on an ed­u­ca­tional trip to Europe dur­ing Vimy Week (April 5 to 13) to study this coun­try’s in­volve­ment in the First World War.

Open to all stu­dents be­tween the age of 14 and 17, this award has given Zachary a lot of pride.

“I’m so ex­cited and hon­oured,” he said of the ac­com­plish­ment.

This trip will not be a va­ca­tion. It will in­volve class­room study and daily field trips.

Those cho­sen have been re­ferred to by the Vimy Foun­da­tion as “ex­cep­tional Cana­dian youth,” who demon­strate “out­stand­ing ser­vice, pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions, no­table deeds, brav­ery or lead­er­ship.”

Stay­ing in­volved

He has vol­un­teered and helped out oth­ers through­out his life and he doesn’t plan on stop­ping now.

Cadets have been a big part of grow­ing up for him, teach­ing him dis­ci­pline and lead­er­ship skills, but also giv­ing him op­por­tu­ni­ties to travel to camp and work his way up the ranks.

He spends some of his evenings and week­ends on the do­na­tion ket­tle for the Sal­va­tion Army dur­ing the hol­i­days, one of the youngest in­volved in this area.

And fi­nally, he said his po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions will con­tinue to grow. He joked that John­son should step down and he take her place in the next elec­tion.

“I be­lieve he could be MHA in the dis­trict some­day,” John­son sug­gested.

“He’s known very well in the dis­trict and now in the prov­ince. I think he’ll be around (the po­lit­i­cal cir­cuit) for a long time,” John­son stated.

You won’t get an ar­gu­ment from Zachary. He has high am­bi­tions for the fu­ture, and one day wants to be premier.

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Com­pass

Zachary Le­Shane has been a po­lit­i­cal en­thu­si­ast since he was five years old, which has given him the op­por­tu­nity to work side-by-side with the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus.

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