Recently Brantford-Brant Federal NDP Candidate Marc Laferriere had a chance to answer questions from the Brantford Manager of Operations for Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications Taylor Berzins about being age and politics in Brantford-Brant.
Grab a copy of the early September edition of The Sputnik online or around the community to read the feature.
See below for full the full back and forth:
Taylor Berzins: What inspired you to get involved with politics before the age of 40?
Marc Laferriere: I got involved in student politics at 14 and on municipal issues shortly thereafter.
I remember first speaking at City Hall when I was about 14 and working with Mayor Friel on some smaller projects when I was 16-19.
I caught the bug early and have been involved ever since. I’ve supported many parties and good candidates across the spectrum but over the course of my university education I came to realize I was a New Democrat.
I was so lucky to get a lot of support in community initiatives and at the time Brian Van Tilborg who is now a city councillor for Ward 5 (the section of Brantford which includes Laurier’s local campus) approached me after a community meeting we were at about anti-poverty.
He asked me if I’d be interested in being a part of the local NDP. I was about 26 at the time. He asked me to be on the local riding assoicaiton as the membership officer. Shortly thereafter he kept asking me to run.
I kept saying that I was too young. He and other local New Democrats really supported me and said that my age had nothing to do with it – that I had valuable life experience and professional experience to fight for the community.
I took almost a year to think about it. I wasn’t as sure as they were. I was involved as a leader with local projects and worked with numerous agencies in town. I was part of a lot of good things that were being done in the community and realized it would be great if we could do that at a bigger level.
I started running when I was 28 and came in second in the 2011 federal election with nearly 30% of the vote. More than the Liberal, Green and Independent candidates combined. Now 3 of the 5 declared candidates are about the same age as I am. That’s quite a change. As someone who has spent 20 years volunteering with youth leadership groups I am really proud to have been a bit ahead of the curve in that regard and welcome more young people to the race.
TB: What kind of criticism have you received specific to your age?
ML: In the last election I would hear a quite a bit of criticism about my age including from the other parties – until they saw the results. It was always the same type of ageism. It’s shouldn’t be about age. It’s should be about who is the best fit to lead in the community. Who can get the most positive change through and who will work the hardest and do things differently.
The age issue hasn’t come up nearly as much in this election. I look older than I am which is part of why but I also think it has to do with how much I have been out there in the community over the last 20 years and since the last election.
TB: What kind of praise have you received specific to your age?
ML: It’s not about age its about a record. Now I hear from some of the same people that used to criticise my age that I have the resume of someone twice my age. People needed some time to get to know my record and see my commitment to the community. They want to know when you first run that your not just giving a good speech and saying good words but that you can get results and will stick with it.
They also have to want change. I think this time around the majority of people in this riding want a change from the last 10 years of the Harper Government.
People in Brantford elected one of the youngest mayors in Canadian history when they wanted change and he was 26 when first elected. I’m still inspired by that and hopefully this group of young candidates running federally in Brantford-Brant in 2015 will do the same for many other young people.
I hear this when I guest lecture at classes at Laurier. Students who are in their 20s who are starting to think that maybe they don’t have to wait until their 50’s – or even their 30’s to start making change in politics. That is very gratifying.
TB: There has been some buzz surrounding social media accounts and back-logged posts of young candidates being surfaced. Where do you sit on sites like “Meet The NDP”, and how does social media impact your campaign?
ML: There are some NDP and Liberal candidates that have had some old social media statements dragged out as attacks. But you know I would ask folks to go look at some of Conservative MP for Kitchener Centre Stephen Woodworth’s past tweets while he was an MP for some incredibly offensive comments about persons living with disabilities and he’s still the candidate for the Conservatives.
This is the new reality we live in. I’m not exempt from it. In the 2011 election the Young Liberals of Canada – which is the official youth wing of the Liberal Party of Canada created a website claiming that I was one of 10 of the most immature candidates in Canada. They ranked me number 2 on this highly publicized website that their bloggers and social media team shared this ad-naseum. They trolled through my Facebook page and found a photo of me dressed as the Incredible Hulk at a Halloween Party to try and make their case.
They then came in 3rd place in this riding. I share that photo every Halloween as a reminder to be yourself, it is vital to be yourself and not just regurgitate talking points from a party online. There’s a difference between disagreement and debate. Debate is healthy and these kind of attack sites that pop up are not. I don’t have time for that, there’s too much change to make and that time would be better served engaging with people in more meaningful ways.
TB: The average age of elected NDP MPs is 49.96. What do statistics like this mean to you?
ML: It means that our caucus is the most diverse elected group of Canadian MP’s in history. We have a wonderful history in the NDP of being ahead of the curve on these issues. First female leader, first aboriginal person to seek leadership, most females in a caucus ever and now the youngest group of MP’s in 148 years of government.
To me it is inspiring that never has parliament more closely resembled the diversity of Canada then when the Orange Wave hit in the last election. I think that is a part of my friend Jack Layton’s legacy that isn’t given a lot of attention yet but will get more focus as we continue to elected people of diverse age, genders, orientations and ethnic backgrounds from across the country.
TB: During the 2011 election, the candidates running for the Conservative, Green and Liberal parties were all over the age of 50. Has this election been different considering the Green and Liberal candidates are also under 40?
ML: I think it is great. Younger voices want in. I’ve known Danielle since high school – we actually played husband and wife in a school play and in this next election we get to share the stage again but this time as politicians not teen actors. I’ve got to know Kevin over the last few years on community projects and consider him a friend and an ally on a range of important local issues.
I think the three of us are going to turn some heads in this election as three candidates in their early 30’s. I think each of us will show that younger politicians can bring something valuable to the table on the federal side of things in Brantford-Brant.
TB: Why should students at Laurier Brantford care that 3 out of 4 major party candidates are under 40?
ML: All politics are local and now that most of the parties are willing to support younger candidates that opens a lot of options for young people. When I was first approached to run at the age of 26 I didn’t believe it was a realistic option and spent a year saying, “no, thank you”.
I internalized some of that ageist thinking myself and thought I had to be at least over 40 to be successful in politics or to even be listened to. I was wrong and am very happy to have been wrong in that case. Now we have 3 candidates who are under the age of 35 running. That’s a rather quick change from 2011 and an exciting one.
Imagine if I had not spent a year thinking about it but had started even earlier? Well for a lot of local people with an interest in politics hopefully they will see the door as a little more open and their options to get involved at all levels of politics as a little more viable. That’s a good thing for all our futures.
Even though the candidates are all set people can still help. We’ve got an incredible team of young people helping on this election and we don’t discriminate by age. Many on the core team are 16 – 25 and are doing some amazing high level political work to show how ready we are for change in Brantford-Brant.