Green’s teen queen says youth tired of being ignored
At 17, Kate O’Connor is likely the youngest candidate in the provincial election.
Running for the B.C. Greens in Saanich South, O’Connor will turn 18, the minimum age for a candidate, just two weeks before election day.
The recent high school graduate would have been starting a degree in politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Toronto this year, but she put those plans on hold to run a provincial campaign instead.
O’Connor said she was inspired to jump into politics after volunteering with B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau’s leadership campaign over the summer. When she realized the youngest MLA was double her age, she decided the province needed some younger leadership.
“It means there’s a whole generation that’s left out of the decision-making that will affect us in the future. I represent a generation that’s tired of being ignored. We’re standing up and we’re demanding that our future is protected,” O’Connor said. “We need people in the legislature who are not thinking five years or 10 years, but who are thinking long term, who are thinking 50 years.”
O’Connor hopes to bring more attention to issues important to her generation, which, she said, include the climate crisis, Indigenous rights and mental health.
She is up against NDP incumbent Lana Popham, who has represented the riding since 2009, and B.C. Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma, who ran for the seat in 2013 and for Saanich council in 2018.
Saanich is already home to young politicians on city council, including Coun. Zac de Vries and Coun. Ned Taylor.
The two were elected in 2018, when de Vries was 23 and Taylor was 19. Taylor took his first shot at entering municipal politics a year earlier, when he ran in a Saanich byelection.
Taylor said he thinks more young people are needed in all levels of government, because they bring fresh perspectives and new ideas. When he first
announced he was running for office, he was sometimes told he was too young or inexperienced.
“But I felt that my generation deserves to have a voice at the table,” he said. “It’s our future on the line and I think we deserve to have a say in the decisions that are being made today.”
Taylor said it feels like the tide is turning and more young people are becoming politically involved, “and that’s a good thing.”
Dan Reeve, a political science instructor at Camosun College, said O’Connor’s campaign could encourage young voters, who
tend to vote in lower numbers than older groups, to cast a ballot. But Reeve isn’t optimistic that it will have a significant impact on the number of young people who show up to the polls.
“Young people are busy and politics for some of them is far away. And so making them feel connected to it, making them feel like this important, it takes a concentrated effort,” he said. “Just having a youth candidate will have a little bit of an impact, but to really tap into the 70 per cent of young people who don’t vote, you really have to make that concentrated effort.”
Voter turnout among those ages 18 to 24 saw the biggest increase from 2009 to the 2017 provincial election, with a 17 per cent jump in the number of registered voters who cast a ballot.
During the same time, the general population saw just a six per cent increase in the number of registered voters who cast a ballot. But voters ages 45 to 75 and up are still turning out in bigger numbers, with threequarters of all registered voters 65 to 74 years old casting a ballot in 2017, compared with just over half of those ages 18 to 24.
Kate O’Connor, who is running for the B.C. Greens in Saanich South, will turn 18, the minimum age for a candidate, just two weeks before election day.