Millennials urged to challenge baby boomers' grip on city politics at Vancouver conference

As campaigning for October's local elections around B.C. begins in earnest, some of the youngest politicians in Metro Vancouver made a plea to their fellow millennials: we need more of you.

Forum for Millennial Leadership event takes place as around 100 under-40s run for office in Lower Mainland

From left, B.C. Liberal MLA Michelle Stilwell, NDP MLA Bowinn Ma, Port Coquitlam Coun. Brad West and Vancouver Park Board commissioner Michael Wiebe discuss some of the issues younger candidates face at the first Forum for Millennial Leadership conference. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

They're known to some as the entitled generation that has ruined everything from the diamond industry to mayonnaise.

But Gavin Dew says stereotypes need to change.

"Millennials are not just a sad generation sitting in their parents' basement, eating avocado toast and whining about the world," he said. 

"In fact, millennials are leading across all sectors of our economy, they're leading everywhere in communities. Now it's time to elect millennials and see them step up and take leadership in government."

Dew is the founder of the Forum for Millennial Leadership, a group that aims to get more millennials elected to office "regardless of party, ideology, or level of government."

With B.C.'s local elections taking place next month, FML held its inaugural conference in Vancouver on Tuesday. Only one of Metro Vancouver's 21 mayors is under 40, and their median age is 66.

"What we're trying to do is break down barriers and lift up young candidates and encouraging them to run," said Dew, who said just 12 councillors in Metro Vancouver are millennials. 

Raise the age issue or not? 

That might change after the Oct. 20 elections, in which around 100 people under 40 are running for office in the Lower Mainland. 

Among them are seasoned politicians like Vancouver Park Board commissioner Michael Wiebe, now running for council, and Port Coquitlam Coun. Brad West, now running for mayor. 

Both West and Wiebe spoke at the conference. 

"I think I wanted to be a politician in kindergarten," joked West, 33. But he cautioned candidates to not pigeonhole themselves as the choice for fellow millennials. ​

"If you run as the young candidate … you're cutting off a whole bunch of other people. The issues that young people in my community care about are the same issues that their parents and grandparents care about," he said.  

Others are entering the political fray for the first time, including independent Burnaby council candidate Claire Preston.

"I was signing petitions, the first week of August I signed another demoviction petition, and I said, 'That's enough. I need to try to do more,'" she said.

"I always cared about politics, but I didn't think I was charismatic enough … That was where my big leap was, believing I could connect with people in a way that would make them vote for me." 

Younger political candidates from across Metro Vancouver gathered to take part in the conference. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Fewer women running

The question of confidence was brought up by Grace Lore, a UVic professor and candidate for Victoria council — particularly around the question of young women putting themselves forward. 

"[With] subjective political confidence, there's a persistent gender gap," she said, adding that just a third of millennial candidates are women. 

"We have a bit of a vicious cycle here. If young women don't see themselves in politics, they don't think of themselves as being capable of being in politics."

At the same time, some of the highest profile politicians in B.C. are millennials, including NDP MLA Bowinn Ma, the parliamentary secretary for TransLink. 

But she, too, sees her relative youth as a double-edged sword. 

"I'm often introduced on panels ... as the youngest MLA in the B.C. Legislature, and everyone goes: 'Yayyyyy!' But I'm 33. I'm not actually that young," she said.  

"It's actually quite tragic that me, at 33, [I'm] the youngest. It doesn't tell you how young I am, it tells you how old politics is."

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