Over the last several years, Canada has seen a downward trend in the participation of young people in the federal political process. This is reflected in voter turnout as well as the number of younger people running as candidates for public office.
Joshua McNeil is an exception to the rule. As the Green Party candidate in Winnipeg South Centre in last month’s federal election, McNeil worked hard to connect with voters and get young people involved in the political process by volunteering with him.
Although the 23-year-old, first-time candidate didn’t win the election (he garnered 1,384 votes), he says the process was a great learning experience.
“I think ultimately it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” McNeil said about his first campaign, in which he came in fourth behind the Conservative, Liberal and NDP candidates, respectively.
McNeil had been involved with the Campus Greens at the University of Manitoba for over a year when the chance to run for office arose.
He jumped at the opportunity when Robert Johnson, prairie coordinator for the Green Party of Canada, contacted him about it when the election writ dropped.
McNeil hasn’t regretted it since. His hard work and involvement has garnered respect and admiration from other prominent Green Party of Canada activists.
“I was really encouraged that Joshua had a lot of drive and energy, and [I]was really impressed with his campaign,” said James Beddome, leader of the Green Party of Manitoba.
McNeil certainly encountered several challenges during the campaign. First off, he ran a campaign while still working at his job at Starbucks.
The biggest challenge was simply getting enough sleep and rest during the campaign.
The Green Party is sometimes viewed as having two wings within the party. One is a more left-leaning environmentalist wing and the other is a more centrist wing that advocates for ecologically friendly capitalism.
McNeil saw himself as a centre-left candidate with strong centrist and business-friendly leanings.
McNeil has also expressed his frustration with the direction of the Government of Canada under Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, especially over what he views as a regressive environmental policy.
However, he concedes that a majority government for the Conservatives might be a good thing for progressives like himself and other Greens, as the public will now be able to see what he believes will be the shortcomings and mistakes of the Conservatives in the next four years.
McNeil undoubtedly has political ambitions for the future. After taking last semester off from school and working hard on his campaign, he realized just how much work it will take to build the Green Party across Canada.
McNeil confirmed that he is interested in running in 2015 and will continue to dedicate his time and energy to building and growing the Green Party.
“Candidate retention” is a strong method to help build up the party, McNeil says. “Faces that we had in this election are recognizable in the next election, which only leads to greater optics.”
Published in Volume 65, Number 26 of The Uniter (June 2, 2011)