Green’s teen queen says youth tired of be­ing ig­nored

Times Colonist - - THE CAPITAL AND VANCOUVER ISLAND - ROX­ANNE EGAN-EL­LIOTT re­gan-el­liott@times­colonist.com

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.

DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

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.

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