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MUNICIPAL ELECTION: Listening, social-media literacy key to youth engagement

Iain Russell wears his beliefs like a badge of honour, or in his case, like tattoos of honour.

On his torso, he’s got the Charter of Rights, Section 2.

On his wrist, he got the words City of Victoria indelibly inked this past summer.

“We’re so lucky to live in a place like this,” he says.

At 24 years old, Russell has lived his entire life in Victoria, and doesn’t rule out one day entering politics. For now, however, he loves his line of work.

The downtown resident also works downtown, at two different service jobs, totaling 60 hours per week. In his free time, he maintains a fashion blog and tweets regularly about civic affairs.

He could just be the city’s biggest fan and he took a public stand in support of the city’s plan to replace the Johnson Street Bridge in the lead up to the referendum last year. He continues to be on the bridge advisory panel.

While Russell is also a proponent of light rail transit, neither this hot-button issue or any other will guide his vote in the Nov. 19 municipal election.

When asked what election issues are important to him, Russell says it’s the wrong question.

“The problem, I feel, with civic politics is making it about issues rather than the people running,” he explains. “I always love that with city councillors, you get to look at their profiles and even meet them and gauge what they’re like as a person and vote for what they’re like as a person.”

So what kind of characteristics make a strong city councillor?

A good listener tops Russell’s list. “There’s a few of them that do such a good job of not speaking too much…. They’re not talking to the press trying to get their slant across, and you can tell that what they’re doing is going out talking to people and listening.”

Being approachable is also important. That means having an approachable manner, but also being present at public events, Russell says.

A related, third criteria is social-media literacy.

“Facebook is a great example,” he says. “If you’re friends with a city councillor, you know where they are when they are, and they’ve invited you to come.”

Having a Blackberry or an iPhone, to get emails when you need them, is a must in this day and age, he says.

Russell qualifies, however, that posts or tweets must be done in a genuine way.

“It’s not just the ‘look at me!’ ‘look at me!’ because that’s being media savvy…. I love it when they do something personal.”

Using social media is important to keep people involved, Russell says. “Especially if you want to keep younger people involved too. That’s how we operate.”

Russell’s question to Victoria’s non-incumbent candidates:

So often politicians will tell you what they’ll do, and not why they’re doing it. Why, as a human being, are you trying to help people? What is it that drives your passion that you feel you should be our representative?

Answers:

Linda McGrew: I feel better for it. I feel compelled to do it. It could be I am the oldest sibling or that my parents instilled strong values in me. It is likely also because I have travelled the world and worked in several developing countries. Action is the only positive reaction to seeing so much devastation, unfairness and imbalance. Victoria can be a leader in the world and I would like help make that happen because I have both the will and skills to do it.

Jon Valentine: I’ve not come from the most privileged of backgrounds, but have been witness to a greater landscape here in Victoria. I feel the need to set a more positive example, and try to inspire others. Also, certain things we take for granted are being eroded and slowly taken away from us, and if I’m going to be a father someday, I want to make sure that the world welcoming my offspring will encourage people to be truly unique and special beings, instead of becoming “worker drones.”

Rose Henry: I do care about my fellow human beings and I want everyone to be the best that they can be. For me this (means providing) shelters and other community services such as our transit system. As a First Nations person I was taught to think of my community as my extended family. So I do have a lot of brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunties and uncles to care for in a fashion that I expect that they would be able for me.

Robin Kimpton: I’m running because I have a good eduction coupled with communication skills. I have strong experience in housing – both rental and homeless housing. I have strong business skills. I will be able to identify and champion issues at city hall, a city hall which is currently dominated by a homogeneous closed council. I am a controversial guy and will stir up city hall.

Sean Murray: I am running for office because I care about the Earth and future generations. We need clean green water. and clean air to breath, and I live on this planet. I feel that municipal politics is a good place to start. I feel that economy and the ecosystem should be friends not enemies.

Sukhi Lalli: I am a Pharmacist and in that role am involved with the community, and support Peer to Peer organizations when I can. Not been elected have let the elected people do what they see fit, but now I feel they are not and want to get your support to be involved in the decision making for the citizens of Victoria. I help other people because it makes me feel good and hopefully it makes others feel good. I know it is the route to a better civil society.

John Turner: I have been a servant to the people in our communities for 16 years as a voluntary street counsellor and community support worker. In the last five years there has been such a sharp rise in the number of people that need help that I and my fellow counsellors and workers have been overwhelmed. The only way that people can be adequately and sustainably helped is for those who help people at "the bottom" to achieve a position in our community as a policy maker.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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