News / Vancouver

Can young Vancouverites afford to run for office?

Millennial politicos weigh the costs of public service

Brandon Yan, 31, has been thinking about running for school board or city council for several years, but has been discouraged by Vancouver's highly partisan municipal political scene.

Jen St. Denis / Metro

Brandon Yan, 31, has been thinking about running for school board or city council for several years, but has been discouraged by Vancouver's highly partisan municipal political scene.

The hours are long, the scrutiny is intense, and your long-term career could suffer.

For young Vancouver politicos, deciding to stand for election is fraught with questions, among them: Can I afford to run for office?

“The costs to just sustaining yourself, working full-time and making time for interests in civic issues is sometimes difficult,” said Brandon Yan, education director for the non-profit Out in Schools. “I know that I’ve had to volunteer less in the last few years because I spent most of my time with work.”

Yan, 31, has considered running for city council or school board for several years. But Vancouver's hyper-partisan politics, and the potential risk of being tied to one party, so far gave him pause. The looming municipal election has Yan again mulling his options, especially with several other progressive parties and candidates challenging Vision Vancouver. The centre-left party has been in power since 2008.

“As a younger person — and I think a lot of people in my friend group — I find it very difficult … to belong to a political party,” he said. “… We find partisan politics just really frustrating. And then we witness it in council where someone will have a really good idea, but other parties just criticize or vote against it even though it might be a really good idea.”

Then there’s the impact on your career: becoming too associated with one party could impact finding work after politics, even after a failed bid.

Vancouver park board vice chair Erin Shum was first elected in 2014 at age 30. Last year, she left the party she ran with — the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) — alleging bullying in its caucus. She sits as an independent.

Despite that experience, she said she'd consider another NPA run; she's currently pregnant and still undecided about standing for re-election. She shares some values with other parties too, she said, and works well with Green park board chair Michael Wiebe. A big part of her choice hinges on the NPA's mayoral candidate pick, she said.

Shum admits politics isn’t always fun, but still encourages other young people to put their names forward.

Erin Shum was elected to the Vancouver park board when she was 30. Now 34, she encourages other young people who are thinking about running for office to get started by volunteering in their community.

Jen St. Denis/Metro

Erin Shum was elected to the Vancouver park board when she was 30. Now 34, she encourages other young people who are thinking about running for office to get started by volunteering in their community.

“If you can see changes," the small business owner said, "the way you represent the community — and being able to deliver what they’re looking for — makes you so proud and it’s so rewarding."

B.C.’s new campaign finance laws give Yan hope that politics, and public cynicism toward politicians, can change. In last fall’s by-election, real estate developers gave $210,000 of Vision Vancouver’s total $278,125 in donations. This fall's civic election will be B.C.'s first vote without corporate and union donations, and with individuals capped at $1,200.

“For me personally, I felt very confused watching Vision (say), 'We want campaign finance reform — but we’re still going to take all this money,'” Yan said.

He and Shum agree that the city suffers when young people don’t take up the civic challenge. “We lose out on that representation in active decision-making,” he said.

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