Halifax decision makers need an infusion of youth, according to Halifax regional councillor Richard Zurawski. He has been advocating for higher youth involvement in municipal politics.
“Right now we have a bunch of old people who, pardon me, fucked up everything,” said Zurawski.
In the 2019 federal election, Zurawski ran as the Halifax-West Green Party candidate. He said he thinks an influx of youth would be the best way for the city to combat the climate crisis.
“Back in the ’60s when I was your age, the ’70s when I went to university, protest was a great way of doing things. We affected a lot of change,” said Zurwaski.
“The idea that, that will continue to work in today’s fragmented society, you know, we had 10,000 people turn out for the climate protest. That was a year ago. Nothing has really changed except our CO2 emissions went up.”
Zurawski wants to see an increase in younger candidates in the upcoming municipal election, on Oct. 17, 2020. For the next few months, he is planning on campaigning province-wide to get younger people to nominate themselves.
He was invited to the Extinction Rebellion Nova Scotia Annual General Meeting on March 7, where he’d planned to make the argument for protesters to become politicians.
“It’s great to protest, it’s great to get out there, all of that stuff. But you really want to make a change? Get your ass elected.”
Running in the elections
Running in the upcoming elections only requires a few steps. To become a candidate, one has to put forward a $200 filing fee and a nomination paper signed by five qualified electors.
While Zurawski has been vocal about influencing the shift in candidates, Zurawski said the city won’t be doing anything to encourage young people to run in the fall. Instead, they’ll focus on the usual mandate of increasing voter turnout.
“You talk to politicians, they will give you a blanket statement saying ‘Oh, yes, it’s a good idea that we have young people involved. We have women involved. We have visible minorities involved.’ But who’s gonna give up their seat for it?” he said.
Zurawksi said he will run again in the elections. “I’m pretty sure this is my last term. This will be my second term, if I get elected. After that, I’d like to see someone else take it.”
An insider’s perspective
Matt Whynott, a former MLA for the Nova Scotia NDP, was sworn into office on June 19, 2009. It was the day before he turned 24 — making him the youngest elected politician in the province’s history.
“Depending on who you talk to, they would say, ‘oh my goodness, it’s so great to see young people involved, and running and you know, those types of things. But then, of course, whether or not you were taken seriously was a completely different question,” he said.
According to Whynott, being a young person in the political space means working harder than everyone else. “You always had to kind of go over and above to prove that you were eligible for this job.
You had to prove to people that you were legitimate,” said Whynott.
While challenges existed, Whynott was a part of a significant environmental decision making during his time in office. As the ministerial assistant for energy, he was involved in the creation of goals for Nova Scotia’s path to using more renewable energy. According to Nova Scotia Power, from 2007 to 2018, their use of coal decreased from 76 per cent to 52 per cent.
Though Whynott was able to aid the fight against the climate crisis while in office, he is hesitant about Zurawski equating young candidates with the progressive movement.
“Let’s not forget that. A lot of young conservatives also exist,” Whynott said.
Sam Oosterhoff is an example. The then-19-year-old became the youngest ever elected member of the Ontario legislature in 2016. An MPP for the Progressive Conservatives, who posed issues for the party right after he was elected.
During his time in office, Oosterhoff was “100 per cent pro-life” and described himself as “absolutely not” a homophobe. His first motion as an elected official was to put forward a legislature allowing communities to reject wind turbine projects in their area.
Still, Zurawski believes the key to fighting the climate crisis are young people in office. “I don’t know anybody with half a cerebral cortex who doesn’t realize science is telling us that we need to do something yesterday.”