Jagmeet Singh, the newly elected 38-year-old leader of the federal NDP, is two years older than Kim Kardashian and two years younger than Kanye West. In other words, he is practically an adolescent in a line of work where many of his colleagues are expecting grandkids. Not only is Singh youngish; the Ontario MPP is unmarried and has no children. (If he was a single childless woman as opposed to a single childless man, we’d probably read a lot more about the leader’s empty nest, but that’s an issue for another day.)
Today’s issue is youth. Singh isn’t the only spring chicken in the federal political coop. Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is also 38 (though like most conservatives, his soul is around 83). And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned 45 last year — decrepit for a music festival attendee, but a fledgling in the political arena.
And yet, in light of Singh’s recent win, Trudeau is now the oldest leader of a major federal political party in Canada. Come Election Day, 2019, it will be Trudeau who is the old man in the race and Trudeau who will fear defeat from a fresher face. This reality isn’t just a far cry from 2015, when the Liberal leader was the great young hope of the nation, it’s also proof that baby boomers’ long-standing presence in federal politics is fading. Meanwhile affable, social media adept Gen Xers are taking their place.
But on a more serious note, a young roster of PM contenders is a good thing because it could be a major win for voter turnout among young citizens themselves. In the 2015 federal election, according to Statistics Canada, “the participation of voters aged 18 to 24 increased by 18.3 percentage points to 57.1 per cent.” It’s foolish to claim that Trudeau — then the freshest face in the race — had nothing to do with this significant turnaround, especially when you look at the fact that so many millennials voted for his party. According to research from Abacus Data and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, “45 per cent of young Canadians (aged 18 to 25) voted Liberal compared with 25 per cent for the NDP and 20 per cent for the Conservative Party. Evidence indicates that most of the increase in turnout during the 2015 federal election was the result of Canadians under 45 years old coming out in much higher numbers.”
The lesson here is that a lot of people turned out for a youngish guy. Imagine then, what the turnout might amount to when there are three youngish guys in the race for PM in 2019, all of them peddling different ideas? Some political pundits have argued that Trudeau’s relative youth had very little to do with a higher millennial turnout in 2015, making the case that social justice ideas in an older package — e.g. Bernie Sanders, 76 — were a massive hit with 18-34 year olds around the world. But when I interviewed young Canadians outside exit polls in 2015, they didn’t tell me they turned out for an idea. They told me they turned out for the young, “relatable” candidate.
In 2019, they’ll have three to turn out for.
Perhaps the most positive outcome of a young roster of PM hopefuls is that “youth” and all of the ideas we attach to it (hope and change for example) will no longer belong to one major party, but to all of them. Ironically, in a race where every major candidate is considered young, the importance of a fresh face cancels itself out. Because when everyone in the running has one, voters swayed by the superficial have no choice but to examine the ideas behind the dudes.
Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.