Aspiring change-makers got a behind the scenes look at politics during the first-ever young elected officials conference.
Vancouver Island’s grassroots network of young elected officials staged the event Sunday to empower politicians and encourage more young people to run for political office.
Thirty people from across B.C. converged in Lantzville for the conference, which explored solutions for challenges like ageism to the ‘how-to’ of political campaigning.
Elected officials agree that young people have a lot to contribute to politics, from creating more balanced representation and change to offering fresh insight into issues like open government and environmental protection. But they also say more needs to be done to break down barriers preventing the under-40 crowd from putting their names forward.
Politics is a competitive business so there’s been a disincentive to pass on knowledge and show potential new candidates the ropes of getting elected, according to Jennifer Millbank, a Lantzville councillor and event organizer. It can be a deterrent to people who aren’t’ sure how to go about running a campaign, she said, adding she’d much rather see people work together and help make government and elected officials better.
“I figure it’s like anything else: you learn how to change a tire by trial and error and it’s probably going to take a long time and you are probably going to make some unnecessary mistakes. It’s a lot easier is somebody teaches you, so we might as well,” she said.
The idea for a conference started percolating more than a year ago, when network members like Millbank and her colleague, Coun. Andrew Mostad, looked around the province and realized some local governments didn’t have any young elected officials, let alone two.
They wanted to help launch an event that could help nurture aspiring leaders and provide momentum to a grassroots young elected officials support network. The group aims to share experiences and work together to address issues faced by Island communities, from B.C. Ferries service cuts to the future of the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Their first event helped reinforce the ties among young elected officials, but it was more about mentoring change makers and showing them what it takes to be a politician, said Mostad, adding that there’s now a push to shift the balance from an old patriarchy into more balanced discussion where young people and women are proportionately represented.
The event “exceeded expectations” and the “energy was amazing … to the point where we reached the deadline of the conference and every speaker wanted to say more,” he said.
Nanaimo’s Shannon Bence and Campbell River resident Laurel Sliskovic called the event “electric” and “a great opportunity.” They both considered becoming politicians in the future, but have been challenged to figure out where they would start. They say they left the event feeling like their goals were within reach and that they’d have a support network to help achieve them.
“The people in the room are there to help the next generation to engage in politics and remove the constraints and barriers that may exist, [whether it’s] physical … or in the minds of young people and I think something needs to be said about that support system,” she said. “It was the best kind of environment a young person thinking about politics could be a part of.”
Sliskovic said she is very interested in potentially running in an election but it is a big decision and she didn’t have the “first clue” about what it would look like to run a campaign or what the time requirements would be.
“This is really the first place I could go to ask questions of other people who are a part of it and just to gain some advice and insight, especially from young people,” she said.
The network is now considering a second conference.