Being an MP at 21 is 'an amazing honour and a privilege,' says Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo, the new Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Kenora, made history in October as the youngest Conservative MP ever elected.
Eric Melillo was the campaign manager for Ontario provincial minister Greg Rickford's 2018 campaign. (CBC News)

A year ago, Conservative MP Eric Melillo was focused on writing his exams and getting his university degree. 

Now, with a bachelor of economics from Lakehead University in hand, he's in the House of Commons. Melillo made history in October as the youngest Conservative MP ever elected.

"To be sworn in at 21, you know it feels like an amazing honour and a privilege," Melillo told Power and Politics in a recent interview. "I think that regardless of what age you are in life, the honour is always the same and I'm just excited to get to work."

While Melillo might be young, he insists he's not inexperienced when it comes to politics. He's been interested in it since he was 12 or 13 years old, he said, and originally got involved by volunteering in the 2015 federal campaign.

Melillo was Ontario Minister Greg Rickford's campaign manager in the 2018 election, and eventually worked in his constituency office. He's also worked at the Northern Policy Institute think-tank and at a business consulting firm.

"I know being a 21-year-old MP, I'm immediately written off sometimes to people who assume I've never had political experience," he said, adding his previous experience has "really prepared me well for the task at hand."

Melillo's riding spans over 321,000 square kilometres but only has about 42,000 eligible voters. He won 34.4 per cent of the vote, while former Liberal cabinet minister and incumbent Bob Nault captured 30 per cent and NDP candidate Rudy Turtle, chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation, won 28.5 per cent.

"We need younger people to step up and get involved in politics and take leadership roles," Melillo said. "I am happy to be able to be one of the voices for younger Canadians."

He said that in his spare time (not that he has much these days), he's trying to teach himself piano. He also cheers for this year's CFL champions, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Grassy Narrows one of Melillo's key priorities

One of his key priorities is getting Grassy Narrows First Nation a mercury treatment centre, he said. The First Nation is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Kenora, Ont.

About 90 per cent of Grassy Narrows residents suffer from mercury poisoning, which was caused by Dryden Chemicals Ltd. dumping mercury into the English-Wabigoon River System in the 1960s.

The federal government has promised funding for a treatment facility to provide specialized care, but so far no deal has been reached.

Melillo says he had a meeting with Chief Turtle on Oct. 22, the day after the election.

"[It's] something that I'm looking forward to working with across party lines in order to address," he said.

Before the election call, then-Indigenous Services minister Seamus O'Regan's office said in an emailed statement to CBC News that Ottawa remains "steadfast" in its commitment to see the facility built.

Eric Melillo is the new MP for Kenora. Here are five things you may not know about him. 2:24

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