She’ll be turning 18 just in time to vote. But Kate O’Connor is aiming a little bit higher with her first election: she’s running for office.
Yesterday, O’Connor was officially granted the candidacy for the BC Green Party in Saanich South.
She’ll be running against incumbent Lana Popham, who served as Minister of Agriculture under the minority government elected in 2017. Equity advocate Rishi Sharma is running with the BC Liberals.
O’Connor’s candidacy was announced by leader Sonia Furstenau alongside a slate of Greens running in the Greater Victoria area.
“Today means a lot for me,” O’Connor said in an interview with Victoria Buzz. “Sonia is a huge inspiration to me.”
She says she started out working with the recently-appointed leader on her leadership campaign. O’Connor volunteered on social media, and worked communications and geo targeting.
At 17, she is the youngest person currently seeking office in the 2020 provincial election. O’Connor will turn 18 on Oct. 9, ahead of general voting day on Oct. 24.
BC’s Elections Act says that a person must be 18 by general voting day in order to run, which could very well mean O’Connor is the youngest person in provincial history to seek office.
She says she would welcome more young people joining her in politics.
“The youngest MLA is 35,” O’Connor said. “The youngest 40 per cent of Canadians do not have a representative in government. We need youth engagement.”
The Green Party has also nominated young candidates in ridings like North Vancouver-Seymour, where 20-year-old student and activist Harrison Johnston is running.
O’Connor says it’s no coincidence that the environmentally-focused Green Party is attracting young people.
“We’re in a climate crisis. Young people are the ones who are going to be shouldering the burden.”
She added that the NDP have broken their promises on climate action, and haven’t stood up for environmental principles.
O’Connor says that while she may be up against a tough opponent with Popham, she intends to run with the sole purpose of winning.
“I for sure believe I have a chance in this race…I do think as a young woman I’m underestimated. I’ve definitely experienced that so far.”
In a political atmosphere that sees harassment directed against youth activists like Greta Thunberg and David Hogg, O’Connor recognizes that she is facing an uphill battle, but wants to break people out of their preconceptions.
She says that cynicism towards youth in politics is a self-defeating argument that excludes a huge portion of the electorate.
“Young people are often criticized and blamed by older, middle-aged people who say that young people aren’t engaged with politics, they aren’t voting,” she said.
“And then when younger people try to get involved and step up, they’re told ‘you’re too young, you’re not serious.’ And that’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.”
The young politician also recognizes that her candidacy serves a dual role in advocacy, serving as a possible inspiration for women in leadership.
“Growing up, even though female leadership has improved, I’ve seen a lack of women in leadership roles,” O’Connor says.
“I’m lucky that I have so many strong women, and men too, who’ve always advocated for me.”
She says she is proud to count Furstenau among those advocates, and says she looks forward to campaigning on issues they both prioritize.
Chief among those issues for O’Connor are mental health supports, indigenous-led conservation, and food security in the province.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, she says she hopes to pursue these values in whatever career she follows.
“I’m not set on politics for life,” O’Connor said. “But now is the time I feel I need to stand up.”
Correction: an earlier version of this article said that a candidate had not yet been announced for the BC Liberals. Rishi Sharma is running for the party in Saanich South.