May 02, 2018

Youthquake applies not only to voters, but candidates as well

Authored by:

Katlyn Harrison

Katlyn Harrison

Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are Canada’s largest voter demographic, eclipsing GenX and Baby Boomers for the first time. Many public opinion researchers and strategists credit Justin Trudeau’s 2015 victory to a rise in participation from young voters – so consequential, PMJT has appointed himself Minister of Youth. 

The importance of this voter group doesn’t appear to be lost on Ontario’s political parties, either. Promises made by Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath around student loan forgiveness child care, housing, and a commitment by all parties to support minimum wage increases (with PC Leader Doug Ford even offering a tax credit for minimum wage earners) are made with young people in mind.

The potential for a repeat performance at the polls from young voters got me thinking about not only their influence as voter, but also the impact of young people as politicians. After years of being told that we should “be the change we want to see in the world” (and a little Googling into candidate websites), it would seem that the 2018 Ontario provincial election may be a banner one for young candidates seeking office.

Many of these aspiring MPPs have impressive resumes and, importantly, are running in winnable ridings for their respective parties.

And it’s not just candidate’s ages that are worthy of a double-take; many of these aspiring MPPs have impressive resumes and, importantly, are running in winnable ridings for their respective parties.

Here’s a look at some of Ontario’s millennials seeking office:

Kate Graham, Liberal candidate in London North Centre

Candidate Name: Kate Graham 

Party: Ontario Liberal Party 

Riding: London North Centre 

Overview: Graham is running to replace long-time Liberal Cabinet Minister and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, who has held the riding since 2003. A professor at King’s University College, Graham was the Chair of the Pillar Nonprofit Network. Graham faces former CPC MP Susan Truppe, and the race is expected to be a close one. 


Candidate Name: Lindsey Park 

Party: Ontario PC Party 

Riding: Durham 

Overview: Lindsey Park is a lawyer and former competitive hockey player who lives and practices in Durham region. She also spent time in Ottawa working for former Environment Minister Peter Kent before deciding to seek the nomination (notably, against older men) in Durham. The riding is currently held by the Liberals provincially, and the Conservatives federally.


Candidate Name: Benjamin Levitt 

Party: Ontario PC Party 

Riding: Hamilton West – Ancaster – Dundas 

Overview: 26-year old Ben Levitt is no stranger to politics, working previously for local Member of Parliament David Sweet. After a couple of false starts with the nomination, Levitt clinched victory in one of the most competitive nomination races in the province. He will face off against veteran Liberal MPP and Cabinet Minister Ted McMeekin in the June race. 


Candidate Name: Saman Tabasinejad 

Party: Ontario New Democratic Party 

Riding: Willowdale 

Overview: A recent graduate of McGill University, the 25 year-old Tabasinejad works for the Iranian Canadian Congress and identifies as an activist and social justice proponent. The riding is currently held by Liberal cabinet minister David Zimmer, who has served as MPP since 2003. Saman’s work with immigrants and refugees may appeal to voters in the riding, which is largely new Canadians of Chinese, Korean and Persian descent. 

Lyra Evans, NDP candidate in Ottawa-Vanier


Candidate Name: Lyra Evans 

Party: Ontario New Democratic Party 

Riding: Ottawa-Vanier 

Overview: Evans has served as a youth facilitator and volunteer manager at the KIND* Space and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa. The 25 year old University student has been open about her own struggles with homelessness as a teenager (affordable housing is a major issue for Evans). Lyra is also a community organizer and LGBTQ activist, and through her nomination, is the first transgender candidate of a major political party in Ontario. Lyra will take on current Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers in the upcoming election.


Candidate Name: Naheed Yaqubian 

Party: Ontario Liberal Party 

Riding: Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond 

Overview: Yaqubian is running in a new riding in the heart of the 905 and Greenbelt (which has taken on a more political flair in the last couple days). The daughter of two Persian immigrants, Naheed is a Bay street Labour lawyer and graduate of Queen’s University. She’s also a member of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and a founding board member of a pro-bono legal organization who provide services to refugees. 

Candidate Name: Stephanie Maghnam 

Party: Ontario Liberal Party 

Riding: Kanata-Carleton 

Overview: With a background in journalism and broadcasting, Stephanie Maghnam will now be spending more time in front of the camera, running as the Liberal candidate in Kanata-Carleton. Born and raised in Edmonton, Maghnam was awarded Citizens of the Year for Kanata North last year, largely due to her work with varios women’s organizations located in the city. Maghnam is also a champion for children and young adults looking to access autism services. 

Stephen Lecce, PC Candidate in King-Vaughan


Candidate Name: Stephen Lecce 

Party: Ontario PC Party 

Riding: King-Vaughan 

Overview:  A new riding created through redistribution, King-Vaughan is perhaps one of the most important “ridings to watch” for conservative hopes in the 905. Carrying the banner for Team Blue will be Stephen Lecce, who has been campaigning actively for well over a year. Prior to going home to Vaughan, Lecce served as a senior communications advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa. Lecce is running against long-time city councillor Marilyn Iafrate, and right next door is Liberal heavyweight and Transportation Minister Stephen Del Duca (who some have mused may seek the Liberal leadership in the not so distant future).  


Candidate Name: Khalid Ahmed 

Party: Ontario New Democratic Party 

Riding: Don Valley East 

Overview: Prior to seeking the nomination for the NDP, 26 year-old Khalid Ahmed was a financial advisor and  community volunteer in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, occupied primarily by newcomers to Canada of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. Ahmed has flagged supports for young people and education reform as hallmarks of her candidacy, in a riding where more than 60% of residents do not identify English or French as their mother tongue. With 80% of the residents in the south part of the riding renting properties, housing affordability and home ownership may also feature in this election campaign, where Ahmed will take on Liberal Cabinet Minister Michael Coteau. 

Being young doesn’t make you the de facto option for millennial voters.


Can these young candidates tap into the hearts and minds of young voters? As we saw with the respective rises of Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul in the United States or Jeremy Corbin in the UK, you don’t need to be young to attract support from young voters. 

The performance of these candidates suggests that outlook, policy, and motives, not age, are a bigger determining factor in deciding who to vote for. Young candidates vying for political office take note: being young doesn’t make you the de facto option for millennial voters.

At the same time, there seems to be little hesitancy to support young candidates from older demographics. While it may seem counterintuitive, some of the biggest champions of young people in politics are baby boomers. A recent study from Abacus Data found that boomers believe young people don’t have enough power over decision-making and policy setting in Canada. This is balanced, however, by some skepticism that millennials have the experience needed to hold positions of authority in Parliament and provincial legislatures.

My take? Much like the rationale behind electing more women to public office, more millennials in politics means the application of a youth lens to public policy. Participation from young people creates an environment where issues facing millennials (including affordable housing, employment and climate change) have more attention in legislatures and Parliaments. Electing those under 35 also serves as a symbol in opposition to the stigma that young people are apathetic or passive in Canadian politics.

If the objective is to have our Parliaments and legislatures look more like our population, you may want to consider giving millennial candidates a second look. 

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