Generation next: Young candidates share their experiences on the municipal election campaign trail

Meena Waseem, 21, and Ken Yee Chew, 25, both won their races in the municipal election Oct. 24. They talk about the experience of running a campaign, whether their age was discussed and why it's important to motivate more young people to get involved in politics.

'I'm not the traditional face that you'd see,' Ken Yee Chew says

Two portraits side by side, woman on left, man on right.
Meena Waseen, 21, was elected to the Waterloo Region District School Board. Ken Yee Chew, 25, won his race in Guelph's Ward 6, beating an incumbent. (Submitted by Meena Waseem, Ken Yee Chew)

As 21-year-old Meena Waseem campaigned to become a school board trustee in Waterloo region, the Kitchener, Ont., woman says her age definitely was an issue for some people.

For some people, they were excited to see a young person involved in politics.

"But the majority of the times that my age was mentioned, it was because a lot of folks didn't think that I would have the qualifications to do this," she told Craig Norris, host of CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition. 

"I remember one particular instance, someone was like, 'Oh, you're 21. Sorry, but you haven't gone through the highs and lows of life,'" she said.

She said people shouldn't discount young candidates because they might not realize the experiences those young people have had in their lives.

"My answer to anyone who hesitates with young people is, a lot of us have had to grow up very quickly in systems and particularly, I would say in my case, being an immigrant who came to this region in just 2009 and as someone who has had to navigate a non-visible disability in schools, I had to be a third parent," she said.

"I had to be an advocate very early on. Everything from translating bank documents to field trip forms, to looking after my younger siblings when my family was trying to build our lives here."

LISTEN | Meena Waseem on her experience on the campaign trail and what she's excited to do in her new role as WRDSB trustee:

'You have a voice at the table'

Ken Yee Chew, 25, is a master's student at the University of Guelph. He won in the city's Ward 6 race, beating an incumbent for the seat.

He says he was able to get a lot of younger adults to volunteer with his campaign and in turn, they helped motivate people to get to the polls. 

"You have a voice at the table," Chew told supporters, nearly all young, at his election night party as they watched results roll in.

"I'm not the traditional face that you'd see," Chew told CBC News on Friday. His parents are Chinese-Malaysian immigrants and he admits earlier this year, he never pictured himself winning a council seat.

The idea of running for council formed after he got to know his neighbours over a proposed development in the south end of the city. He got involved, using his skills as an urban designer, to look over the plans. When he realized it wasn't a case of NIMBYism — people saying not in my backyard — and there were real concerns with the development, he worked with neighbours to come up with a response to the city and even meet with the developer.

He realized he could use those skills on a larger scale as a councillor.

During the campaign, Chew says his age and race rarely came up. He and his campaign volunteers tried to hold events that were fun, like a park day with face painting or a hot dog giveaway to meet people and talk to them about the issues.

"I think we really identified that, OK, people want to be heard. A lot of these folks, they've actually moved into Guelph in the last four years so I would credit a lot of my success to those people who went out to vote for the first time," he said of people in the city's south end.

He said he was pleased to see other young people motivated to get involved with him and the campaign.

"You have to make it exciting. You have to make it fun. It doesn't have to be all too serious," he said.

It's a big responsibility to run a campaign, he added, but "these are people that well educated, they're well informed, they just haven't had the opportunity to engage."

Different viewpoint

Jack Perkes ran in Cambridge's Ward 8 race, but lost to incumbent Nicholas Ermeta.

Portrait of young man
Jack Perkes ran in Cambridge's Ward 8 race. On his campaign website, Perkes said he wanted to run to provide a platform for youth in the city to be able to speak out and be heard by local politicians. (Stan Switalski)

CBC K-W was unable to reach Perkes post-election, but during his campaign, Perkes said he felt a youth voice has been missing at the council table.

"I am running in this election because I believe our society needs more young people and the unrepresented populations to step up, get involved and help create positive changes in our community," he said in a CBC K-W candidate survey.

"My goal is to share my viewpoint with our council so that they may see situations in a new perspective that may not have been considered before."

Perkes also said as a member of the LGBTQ community in the city, he felt that was another underrepresented group that council needs to hear from more often.

Young people also made their mark outside of Waterloo region and Guelph. In Amherstburg, Ont., 22-year-old Linden Crain not only won his seat, he garnered the most votes out of all five councillors elected in the town of 22,000.

Linden Crain is running for town council in Amherstburg. (Submitted by Jessica Lembke)

Crain told CBC Windsor Morning he wants to engage youth in the town when he officially joins council next month.

"I think it helps to have someone in the position they can relate to," Crain said.


Kate Bueckert


Kate has been covering issues in southern Ontario for more than 15 years. She currently works for CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. Email: