Don’t make jokes about avocado toast around Tesicca Truong.
Yes, she’s heard the jab that her lazy, entitled generation isn’t able to buy property because they spend too much on everyday extravagances like said toast.
In response, she points to a study that looks at the time it takes today for the average Canadian earner between 25 and 34 to save up for a downpayment on an average property.
In 1976, it took five years. In 2017, it took 12 years, and more than double that if you’re in Vancouver.
“I’m just so fed up hearing those stories about millennials,” said Truong, 26, who is running as the NDP candidate for the riding of Vancouver-Langara. “We need different policy and different folks in government to understand our changing reality.”
Unaffordable housing is just one of the crises her generation faces. There’s also the increasing threat of climate change and disruptions in the job market, with the rise in contract work and less union support.
All the more reason to have younger people in politics who live these issues, she said.
On a recent Monday, Truong arrived by bike at Langara College in the riding, her father pedalling closely behind, to talk about why she thinks it’s unfair to blame young people for political apathy.
For starters, it’s inaccurate because there are more young people voting than before. In 2015, younger voters played a key role ending Stephen Harper’s reign in Ottawa and ushering in Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
And looking at the faces of the participants at climate strikes, Black Lives Matter protests and rallies in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders, the majority are young, she noted.
Truong knows not every young person is fired up about social or political issues, but why blame them when there’s more to be done to get them engaged?
Her own initiation started with education. She credits teachers at Churchill Secondary, located in the riding she’s running in, and at an outdoor education program called Trek for teaching her about the environment.
There were memorable field trips to a landfill to learn about waste and a dam to learn about local water.
“It connected all of these dots about what I was learning and how it impacted the systems that we’re part of,” she said.
Truong and her friends were later inspired to start a campaign called Youth4Tap to get their school to stop selling bottled water and create better options for tap water. As they made presentations to other schools, they realized that they should lobby the source, the school board itself.
The result: water refill stations installed in all Vancouver high schools and testing to ensure that there wasn’t lead in the water due to old piping.
“It was an experiment in organizing,” said Truong. “I had never done anything like that before in high school.”
She continued to think about how to get her peers more engaged with the systems that they live in.
Truong graduated with a bachelor of science from Simon Fraser University two years ago and was one of those students lauded with awards and distinctions. Among her many volunteer positions were roles on the Vancouver Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force and an advisory council to the provincial environment minister.
Truong said she kept hearing institutions ask, “Where are the young people?” Which was odd because she knew her peers did care about a lot of the issues that mattered.
“There was just this need to actually stitch these communities together,” she said.
So Truong co-founded a non-profit called CityHive to build bridges between young people and institutions.
Among its many projects, CityHive helped create youth advisory groups for transportation authority TransLink and North Shore Community Resources. On a national level, Natural Resources Canada had a hard time getting young voices chiming in on the future of energy in Canada, and CityHive came in to help with consultation.
That’s why Truong hopes that she or other young candidates will be elected this time, to simply have a seat at the table.
“When you look at the overall makeup of legislature, it’s still predominately men, still predominately white, with many lawyers,” said political scientist Stewart Prest, who lectures at Simon Fraser University.
“You might feel that if everyone who is elected looks nothing like you, with no background resembling yours, that this isn’t a world for you.”
In the most recent provincial government, the NDP’s Bowinn Ma was the youngest MLA upon election at age 31. Ma was 35 by her term’s end.
With 40 per cent of B.C. aged 34 and younger, Truong hopes she or someone else from that age bracket will make it to the legislature.
Aside from age, the legislature could also benefit from more MLAs from underrepresented groups, bringing greater diversity in ethnicity, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation, she said.
Truong hopes that the fact that she is running — a young born-and-raised Canadian with a father who was a refugee from Vietnam and a mother who immigrated from Hong Kong — will show others from varied backgrounds that politics can include them.
“Both of them instilled in me this deep sense of responsibility for the rights that we have in Canada,” she said. “It reminded me that you can’t take them for granted, as imperfect as the system is.”
Truong’s chief rival in the Vancouver-Langara riding is the BC Liberals’ incumbent Michael Lee, a business lawyer. The Green candidate is Stephanie Hendy, a disability case manager.
It will be a tough battle, as the riding has been a BC Liberal stronghold since it was created in 1991. But it’s a battle Truong wants to fight even if she doesn’t win.
Aside from her parents, it was the words of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that gave Truong a push to run for office.
Ocasio-Cortez of New York is the 30-year-old Democratic U.S. representative who rose to prominence after defeating a 10-term incumbent in the 2018 midterm election primaries. She is of Puerto Rican heritage and known for her savvy social media presence that connects young people with politics.
Truong watched Ocasio-Cortez in a documentary Knock Down the House on Netflix earlier this year.
“She said 100 of us need to run for one or two of us to get in. All of a sudden, it emboldened me to feel fearless about it because I was like, it’s not about me.... It’s about a movement. It’s about us stepping up and seeing ourselves represented.”
Read more: BC Election 2020