Under 30s in capital region government look to make waves

Ravi Parmar had more to celebrate on election night than winning a Sooke School District trustee position: It was also his 20th birthday.

“I learned today that I was the youngest person elected in the [capital region] and also one of the youngest school trustees ever to be elected in B.C.,” he said days later.

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Parmar wasn’t an anomaly. Under-30 candidates won in municipal elections across the region, promising fresh perspectives and new opportunities for youth engagement in local government.

The new councillors include Lilja Chong, 22, in Colwood; Olga Liberchuk, 27, in Esquimalt; Ebony Logins, 28, in Sooke; Niall Paltiel, 22, in Central Saanich; and Aaron Weisgerber, 28, in View Royal.

Although they’re a diverse group, their campaigns had many things in common — including extensive use of social media to connect with voters and platforms featuring youth participation as a priority.

“That was very big,” said Parmar, who began attending school-board meetings at 16. “One of the things that I was disappointed in was the fact that when I was a student, no one from our school board came to our leadership meetings, asked what we wanted to see done differently or how we wanted to affect change.”

He also wants to teach teens about the basic roles of school trustees and city councillors and how to vote. “I think there’s a real lack of civic-politics education in schools.”

At an all-candidates meeting in Sooke, Logins also said she wants to use education to break down barriers to youth engagement in politics. Youth can’t be expected to jump into a council meeting and understand that OCP stands for official community plan, she said.

Others cited youth-oriented projects they want to pursue. Weisgerber said he wants to re-activate the youth drop-in centre that he helped create years ago in View Royal. Liberchuk hopes to start a youth council in Esquimalt. And Chong suggests informal café nights, where young people can learn and talk about local issues.

But most also said they don’t want to be limited to youth-specific issues.

Paltiel, a University of Victoria public policy student, started a small landscaping business and bought his first house before he was 20. He said he’ll advocate for affordable housing and jobs for families of all ages.

“I ran with the perspective of a young person, but I wanted to make sure that if elected, I represented all demographics,” he said. Paltiel’s campaign resonated with voters — the youngest candidate on the ballot, he won the most votes overall in Central Saanich.

Liberchuk said she’s looking at ways to involve residents from various walks of life. Community engagement in civic politics is lower than it should be for all demographics, not just youth, she said. “I think it’s really important to have a diversity of people involved in the community and youth are an important part of that.”

Although the source of their support on election day is unclear, most of the young politicians said they believe younger voters played a pivotal role, based on the feedback they received on election night. If anything, it’s an early sign that their presence on council may result in stronger youth participation.

In the final moments of his campaign, Paltiel said, he reflected on the many messages he received from young people — either high school classmates or kids he coached in rowing — saying they voted for the first time.

“I was saying to myself that regardless of if I win, I’m glad to see these texts and Facebook messages I’ve been getting from people telling me they’ve just voted for the first time. Regardless of the outcome, that’s pretty special.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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