Gen Z Candidates Use Their Campaigns to Boost Youth Turnout and Increase Engagement | National

Isaiah Bryant compares campaigning for city council in Mississauga, Ont., to preparing for his upcoming G2 test drive – the more the 20-year-old does it, the more confident he feels.

“The more you do it and the more comfortable you feel, the more you’ll be able to progress and get to where you’re trying to go,” he says.

This is Bryant’s first time running for office – had he tried to serve on the board in the last election in 2018, he would have been too young to run. And while some have taken note of his age, Bryant says he sees his youth as an advantage.

“My experience as a youth has been a benefit to my campaign because a lot of young people feel the issues, which a lot of Mississaugans in general feel, the hardest,” he says, citing the rising cost of living and the lodging. affordability as examples.

Bryant is one of many candidates aged 25 and under running for city council in this month’s municipal elections. Several of these Gen Z candidates say they are using their campaigns to spark renewed interest in local politics and educate voters about the role of city governments.

“It’s hard to get kids my age to stop being cynical about the process,” Bryant says of the municipal elections. “They feel like, as young people, their voice isn’t as important.”

Voter turnout in the 2018 election in Mississauga was 25%. Bryant says he feels young people are even less engaged than the general population, but he tries to change that by informing those he asks about what local government is doing.

Brennan Bempong, a 25-year-old man who is also a candidate for Mississauga city council, says he believes young people are not engaged in city politics because no one has shown them how local governments directly affect them.

Having few applicants who reflect the youth population and the issues important to them — such as an unstable housing market and mental health supports — is also a factor, he says.

“The only way to reach young people is to have young people in those positions,” Bempong said. “That’s why I’m stepping up now at the age of 25.”

Bempong, an orthopedic technician who has worked on political campaigns at the federal and provincial levels, says he was inspired to run when he realized the city council didn’t reflect all of Mississauga’s diverse and vibrant groups.

“The youth perspective, the under-40 perspective…is not on the board,” he says. “We are not just saying that only young people should be in power, we are saying that these 12 seats should be as diverse as possible.”

Sydney Brouillard-Coyle, 22, noticed a similar problem in Windsor.

“A lot of people who are under 30 don’t feel represented, a lot of people who are part of the 2SLGBTQ community, as well as women,” says Brouillard-Coyle, who is trans, non-binary, asexual and uses pronouns neutral.

Brouillard-Coyle, who is running for a Windsor council seat, admits the chances of winning are slim, but says it’s more important to start conversations about issues that matter to young people and the visibility of queer people.

“For young people, for queer people, to be able to see themselves represented… it’s huge because it encourages them to come out and vote, to engage politically,” said Brouillard-Coyle.

“If people look beyond my age, look beyond their own assumptions, then they would see someone who is a leader, who has a deep passion for community.”

Semra Sevi, a political science researcher at Columbia University who has studied Canadian elections, says her research suggests that the presence of younger candidates encourages younger voters to vote for younger candidates.

This could be because young people have political preferences that often diverge from those of older voters and are more likely to pay attention when they see a candidate who looks like them, she says.

“The growing number of young candidates in recent elections may actually have positive effects on future youth representation,” she says.

Municipal elections across Ontario are scheduled for Monday.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 20, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.