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BC Election 2013: Meet the Youngest Candidates

Fresh faces from four parties explain why they decided to run.

By Natascia Lypny 17 Apr 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Natascia Lypny is completing a practicum at The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter @wordpuddle.

A delivery driver. A bank staffer. A restaurant manager. A grocer.

With an average age of 24, Andrew Mercier, Spencer Malthouse, Barbara Lu and Bryce Crigger are the youngest candidates from each of the four main parties in the upcoming provincial election.

Lump them together as we did here, you'd be mistaken to characterize them as similar because of their age. Their backgrounds speak to divergent routes towards political engagement, and their election platforms ring true to their respective parties'.

These four fresh faces do come together on some points. For one, they're concerned about voter turnout and political engagement among their demographic. They see young people not only as the future of British Columbia but also as one of the groups carrying the heaviest burden in terms of debt, poor job prospects and future quality of life. And they believe that this election is significant enough to push them to run for candidacy at such a fledgling age.

Don't let that number sway you, they say: These candidates aren't fazed by their age, nor by the decades older incumbents they'll face off with on May 14.*

'You gotta stand up'

Andrew Mercier remembers watching his mother suffer through a debilitating back injury that took her away from her job as a nurse. Hurt lifting a patient, she went through multiple surgeries and complications while battling with the Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia.

"That was kind of eye opening into the role governing institutions can play in people's lives," says the 27-year-old now running as an NDP candidate. "They can either be there to empower, protect and help people, or they can act as marginalizing."

Mercier, whose father is a police officer, says that his upbringing influenced his candidacy in his hometown of Langley.

"I was really raised with the values that if you see something wrong, you gotta stand up and say something about it or do something about it, and that begets political involvement."

In this election, Mercier's standing up for a riding he feels the BC Liberal Party has pushed to the side after winning its seats without much competition in the past.

"I think this area in particular, and the Fraser Valley as a whole, has been taken for granted by the Liberals," he says. "It's been ignored."

That's why Mercier and his team of 20-somethings campaigners are determined not only to reach as much of Langley as possible -- they've knocked on 5,500 doors already -- but also to increase voter turnout. Mercier is concerned that once the voting, baby boomer population is gone, voter turnout and, as a result democracy, will suffer. He supports the NDP plan to decrease voter registration to 16 years of age.

Mercier is no stranger at getting people to the polls. He served as the campaign manager for federal NDP candidate Piotr Majkowski in the last election, acquiring the highest number of votes for the NDP in his riding's history.

Whether he can repeat his success in this provincial election is uncertain. This newcomer's up against Liberal incumbent Mary Polak and Conservative leader John Cummins in what The Tyee has called a riding to watch.

Mercier's opponents don't phase him.

"We're really just focused on going out and talking to voters ... and we'd be running the same campaign whether or not they were here."

'It's our future'

Spencer Malthouse is touting his election platform to a constituent as a three-year-old runs around naked after a bath. It's in this kind of personal, relaxed environment of a Victoria Swan-Lake home that Malthouse loves to meet with his riding's residents.

Malthouse, 23, has made his Green Party campaign focused on door knocking. He says he hears it in the voices of the people he visits that they mistrust politicians, they don't know who to vote for, and young voters in particular don't think the election will make a difference.

That's where he thinks his age becomes an asset. He says for young people, he can talk directly to their issues. He does, after all, have $30,000 in student debt and works at a bank where he sees people tackling mortgages he knows he will likely never be able to acquire. And for those voters older than him, Malthouse represents their children's future.

"Politicians always say, 'The future of our kids: that's what we're talking about.' Well, in this case, it's our future," says Malthouse. "That's why I'm here: I want to address our concerns."

He says he hopes to instill a parental pride in his constituents as their elected representative. For a Green Party member, that means creating long-term, local jobs with a small ecological footprint through a sustainable economy platform. It also means proportional representation, the creation of a provincial parliamentary budget officer, and streamlining the government.

Despite a background that aligns with the Green Party -- he was a 4-H club member, humanitarian charity fundraiser, ecological economics grad and PRIDE representative for his bank -- Malthouse has only recently become partisan.

"I've distanced myself from being a member of a party until this time because I didn't really want to throw my allegiance behind any one party," he says. "I wasn't sure exactly where I (sat) on the spectrum."

Now in the full throes of partisan politics, Malthouse is opposing Rob Fleming, the Victoria Swan-Lake NDP incumbent and environment critic. Malthouse criticizes Fleming for his sparse portfolio that's failed to address green jobs and who was, at one time, in favour of fracking. He thinks now is the time for B.C. to move away from two-party politics.

"I think we need another voice in B.C.," he says.

'The opportunity that's ahead'

Working in her parents' restaurant, Barbara Lu listened in on patrons' conversations. She used the Port Moody establishment as her source for a pulse on the Tri-Cities community in Port Coquitlam.

As she grew older, Lu connected with the youth of her area through her church and organizations seeking to engage young people in politics. Now she's looking to connect with them on a whole other level.

"I didn't know it would be so young," says the 24-year-old of becoming a BC Liberal candidate, "but seeing the opportunity that's ahead of me and what an important election this particular one is for B.C., I decided I had to step it up and do something more."

Lu thinks her age makes her more approachable to young voters, who often rush to get their parents when she knocks on their door but who she encourages to speak up about their concerns.

As a wife, homeowner and daughter of entrepreneurs, Lu says she can relate to older adults' economical concerns as well. She says she stands behind any government that, like the BC Liberals she says, is responsible when it comes to balanced budgets and avoiding debt.

Premier Christy Clark is the inspiration for this Simon Fraser University political science graduate.

"(S)he is one tough cookie and she's someone who can take the criticisms that she's taken with grace and without backing down on what she believes in," says Lu of Clark, adding that having a woman in power has also encouraged her involvement in the election.

Lu is running against longtime on again, off again NDP incumbent Mike Farnworth and Your Political Party member Brent Williams.

'Pretty optimistic'

"I'm kind of fresh and new to this," Bryce Crigger told The Tyee in what was one of his first media interviews.

The 23-year-old BC Conservatives candidate had the television on in the background, a distracting box that, along with reading newspapers, has been his main source of political engagement.

His route to candidacy in Nanaimo really got going, though, when he became the treasurer for the local Conservatives' constituency association. He says he doesn't possess the hardiness to help people through being a paramedic, police officer or firefighter but believes politicians can help people in their own way.

An accounting student from Vancouver Island University who is saddled with debt, Crigger's platform focuses on the province's own money woes and the burden it will place on people his age. He chose the BC Conservatives because he's most confident in their economic principles.

Like these other young candidates, Crigger is hopeful he can draw out more young voters. He's participating in a video project run by the local real estate board called No Vote, No Voice, which is soliciting digital messages from election candidates.

The Nanaimo riding has a jam-packed roster, with candidates from each of the four major parties and one independent announced so far. Crigger brushes off the success of three-time NDP incumbent Leonard Krog, saying many people voted for the NDP in the 2009 election in protest against the BC Liberal government, including BC Conservative Party Leader John Cummins.

"I don't put too much stock in poll numbers," says Crigger of the NDP's reported lead, "because I've taken statistics courses in university and there's a lot of human judgment and human error that takes place in those models."  [Tyee]

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