Calgary

NDP's actual 19-year-old candidate doesn't think his age is a laughing matter

A 15-second video shared widely on Twitter is sparking conversations about what United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney thinks of youngsters in politics.

Twitter video is sparking conversations about what the UCP leader thinks of youngsters in politics

NDP Highwood candidate Erik Overland is 19. (Courtesy/ NDP)

A 15-second video shared widely on Twitter is sparking conversations about what United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney thinks of youngsters in politics.

It's a short clip and there's not much context to go on.

Kenney is speaking at a fundraiser in Cochrane for UCP candidate Peter Guthrie, and in the yellow-hued video, audience members seated around round banquet tables are turned in their seats to listen to the party leader. 

In the video, Kenney says the "star candidate" for the NDP, Steve Durrell, is a 19-year-old.

The crowd laughs — his statement is a punchline.

"Now don't take it for granted because they elected a lot of them…" he continues before the clip cuts off.

In a statement to CBC, UCP spokesperson Matt Solberg wrote Kenney was told Durrell was 19 before the fundraiser. 

We are incredibly proud of the young and diverse team of United Conservative candidates that have been nominated by our membership to run in the upcoming election.- Matt Solberg, UCP spokesperson- Matt Solberg, UCP spokesperson

"Clearly that was incorrect and no offence was intended," wrote Solberg. "We are incredibly proud of the young and diverse team of United Conservative candidates that have been nominated by our membership to run in the upcoming election."

Solberg continues to suggest Kenney's statement was not about age, but a lack of experience — and that the NDP candidate lives outside of the riding.

Durrell took to Twitter on Friday — he's not 19, he's 29. But that decade-wide margin of error isn't his point of contention. 

"I was disappointed that he thought so little of young people in politics," Durrell said. "I would have hoped that anyone seeking leadership in this province would have seen young people being involved as a good thing and something to be celebrated." 

While Durrell might not be 19, in the Highwood riding another NDP candidate is. 

Erik Overland is a Mount Royal University student in policy studies. He's also a governor at the Students' Association at the university. He was nominated on Jan. 26.

'I know what I'm talking about'

"I have had some backlash against my age, but I think the most important thing is that I like to think I know what I'm talking about," said Overland.

In his studies, Overland is looking at economics and political science and how both those are each applied in the real world. He says he's always been fascinated by policy.

Overland is running against RJ Sigurdson, the United Conservative Party Constituency Association President. Sigurdson has worked in the oil and gas sector, construction, and is a trained red seal journeyman. He's been involved in politics since 2012 according to his bio. 

Overland says he wants to continue down the path that was paved in 2015 for young politicians — when Thomas Dang was elected at the age of 20, becoming the youngest MLA in the province's history. A number of other young MLAs were elected, including Michael Connolly in Calgary, at age 21.

'We need to know how a law will affect us'

"Young people in politics is something I think is very important for the future," Overland said. "We have a very big and powerful voice that I don't think very well represented — and that's something that I want to change." 

MLA Connolly, who is not seeking re-election, says despite dealing with ageism in his term he felt the young NDP members helped their older colleagues understand how to apply policies to a wider range of ages.

"We need to know how a certain law will affect us, we need to know how a certain law will affect seniors and middle-aged people," he said. "And without those people in caucus, it's a lot harder." 

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