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Under-age-30 candidates seek voice at council tables

They cite housing shortage and climate change as priorities they want to address, and reflect on barriers to public office that younger candidates face.
Under-age-30 candidates in the 2022 municipal election, top row from left: Zac de Vries, Colby Harder, Basil Langevin, Steven MacAskill. Bottom from left: Jordan MacDougall, Niall Paltiel, Khadoni Pitt-Chambers and Jordan Quitzau. SUBMITTED

Last year, Colby Harder tried to join Langford’s transportation and public works committee.

The now 26-year-old had experience doing transportation planning and public engagement with the Capital Regional District and wanted to apply her knowledge to the community she grew up in. She thought they would be excited to get a youth voice at the table.

Harder didn’t get the role and despite calling for feedback, never found out why. But the rejection lit a fire in the Langford resident, and solidified her decision to run for city council.

“People have talked about not letting us get back to the ‘old normal,’ and finding a new normal,” she said. “I just saw this election as a chance to be a part of that change. And to bring some youth voices into representation, especially in places where they haven’t existed before.

“Langford is definitely one of those places.”

Harder, a graduate student at the University of Victoria, is one of a handful of municipal council candidates in Greater Victoria under 30 years old.

The Times Colonist was able to identify eight candidates under 30 out of 192 mayoral and council candidates running across Greater Victoria, from Sooke to Oak Bay and Sidney to Victoria — although there may be more.

Harder, who owns a condo in Langford with her husband, isn’t surprised by the small number of youth candidates.

“Young people aren’t as established and don’t have as much housing security, and that is sort of a priority before you can take care of everyone else,” she said.

“But younger people in general really bring a sense of urgency. Our stake is in a livable planet,” she said. “We are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis when it comes to what we’ll live through and see for the rest of our lives.”

Urgency is a theme for many young candidates.

Until recently, Basil Langevin, 26, hadn’t considered getting into politics. It took a pandemic, a heat dome and a housing crisis to push him into action.

“So many things we’ve heard about for so long — and seen coming —are here now,” the Saanich council candidate said. “The stakes are high for young people. I meet so many students, so many people around my age who are really frightened about what’s coming.

“And I don’t often see that reflected to the same degree in older generations.”

Langevin said time and money are factors for all candidates, but can be even more limiting for young people.

“Politics hasn’t traditionally been welcoming of young candidates, just as it hasn’t been welcoming of diversity more broadly,” he said. “There are a lot of resources required to run a successful campaign, to raise a significant amount of money [and] spend a significant amount of time knocking on doors.

“For young people who are early in their careers, those who don’t have access to those resources, or who are working a full-time job in order to meet rent — I think those are a lot of the reasons young people aren’t able to participate to the degree we’d like them to.”

Khadoni Pitt Chambers, 25, is running for a Victoria council seat after working for climate and clean energy organizations like GreenPAC and more recently, City Green Solutions.

“I’ve been moving through this space and seeing, through the years, how people have been increasingly becoming more and more aware of climate crisis and all the other things affected by it,” Chambers said.

“With this election being such a huge and important one, we really need voices on council that are young and are looking out for, not ‘What is Victoria looking like as I transition to retirement?’ but ‘What is Victoria going to look like as I transition to wanting to have a family? Purchase property? Or move out of the rental I’ve been in for five years?’ ”

“The youth are here, the youth are engaged,” Chambers added. “The issue is that there are so many barriers preventing them from running in these elections or even feeling like them running will have any noticeable impact, especially with a crowded 36- or 37-candidate ballot this year.”

Another young Victoria council candidate, 28-year-old Jordan Quitzau, said people underestimate the impact they can have by participating in municipal politics. Quitzau said he’s running to make Victoria a safer, more livable city for young families.

“I think we need to do more to keep parks safe for families in the city and not expose children to any indecent behaviour,” he said.

Quitzau said he wants to see more rental options for young families, such as three- or four-bedroom purpose-built rental apartments with amenities like daycares and playgrounds.

“There’s not a whole lot of [rental] availability and if you are able to find something, it’s incredibly expensive,” he said. “The reality is, I’m going to have a kid before I can afford any of these million-dollar-plus homes.”

Incumbent Saanich councillor Zac de Vries, 27, is pleased to see three young candidates — himself included — in the running for Saanich council.

De Vries believes a lot of young people are disillusioned with the status quo. He and departing councillor Ned Taylor, who was elected at 18 years old, were some of the youngest councillors serving during the last term.

“Having the youth voice has meant that we’ve approached housing, we’ve approached climate action as well as environmental protection and equity issues with much greater urgency,” de Vries said. “Because we’re experiencing these issues firsthand, like many residents, but also with the realization that we will have to endure these issues — and perhaps them getting even worse — for the next 50 to 70 years.”

De Vries, who balances council duties with a job at the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Food, said the pay for councillor positions can be a barrier for people of any age.

“It requires you to work another job. And that is an extraordinarily difficult task, especially with other pressures young people face, whether it’s pursuing an education or trying to start a family.”

Saanich council candidate Jordan MacDougall said he’s running to have a say in his own future.

“I was not sure if I was going to be able to stay in the city where I grew up, where my parents are from and where my grandparents are from,” he said. “That has a lot to do with housing affordability and the housing crisis. And then obviously we have an environmental crisis at the same time.

“I kinda want to encourage other peers to think about voting, think about getting engaged,” he said. “I ran to give a voice to my generation’s concerns.”

Council candidates under 30

Saanich: Zac de Vries, Basil Langevin, Jordan MacDougall

Victoria: Khadoni Pitt Chambers, Jordan Quitzau

Langford: Colby Harder

Colwood: Steven MacAskill

Central Saanich: Niall Paltiel

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