McGill alum – and former Daily editor – Nicholas Smith and McGill education student Phil Cutler are running for Westmount City Council in the November 1 municipal elections. They are the only two university-age contestants in a race where six out of nine positions are contested.
Young politicians, however, are not a widespread provincial trend. According to Quebec’s municipal affairs and regional elections web site, only 9.4 per cent of councillors elected in the province in 2005 were between the ages of 18 and 34.
Cutler is running in District 2 of Westmount, which has three candidates, the other two of which are senior members of the community.
“It’s the first real opportunity that I’ve had as an adult to get involved in municipal politics,” Cutler said. “I want to take advantage of that.”
“Our generation has been disengaged from political matters, without the involvement of youth. At any age, it’s important that people become aware of what is going on around them, the decisions that affect them,” said Cutler.
Smith is running in District 4 against incumbent councillor Kathleen Warner Duncan, who has only served one term in Westmount. He said the majority of a councillor’s responsibilities involve tackling small projects, such as installing speed bumps and keeping Westmount’s bike lanes open to traffic during the winter.
“I have a lot of interesting goals. We’ll see how naive and idealistic I am, [and] if I’m able to accomplish everything I said,” Smith said.
Though they were still uncertain how their youth might affect their work as potential councillors, Cutler and Smith felt they could offer a fresh perspective to residents who have lived in uncontested districts for longer periods of time.
“There’s a huge demographic that feels a disconnect in politics and I think that having one [young] councillor, and maybe two, would reflect the demographic weight of the age bracket that has tended not to care in the past,” said Smith.
“Once that has started, people will realize that it’s not just a closed-off, elderly branch that nobody knows about. Young people can actually get involved and do something for the better,” said Smith.
Youth involvement is important, Smith said, because municipal politics have the greatest effect on residents’ daily lives, and smaller, local problems are often easier to fix. More importantly, the youth living in Westmount today are the ones who will feel the effects of municipal decisions, such as the construction of a superhospital on the area’s borders.
A part of their strategy is also to highlight their youth as beneficial to the aging population of the community.
“[The older residents are] looking to the younger generations who are much more competent at developing the next level and taking it to the top in technology,” Cutler said.
Cutler added, however, that some residents took his age as a reason to not take him seriously as a politician.
“People are waiting for you to slip up. You can tell that they’re not going to [say], ‘I want to make decisions with a 21-year-old,’” Cutler said.
“They want wisdom, they want someone who supposedly is an expert, but that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily the best.”
Neither Cutler nor Smith seems to be deterred by the lack of precedent for young councillors in Westmount, however.
“The only reason I am running is to win; that’s why people get involved in politics. I’m not running a campaign as just a joke. I’m using everything possible to put myself in the best position,” Cutler said.
Westmount residents can vote in Victoria Hall on Sunday, October 25 from 12-8 p.m.; or on Sunday, November 1 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.