For some high-school students, attending a municipal political convention ranks as low on the priority list as playing bridge with their grandparents. Not so, however, for Etienne Goulet-Lang and Mike Paulus, who were part of an army of teenagers and young adults at the NPA nomination meeting on September 22 at the Marriott Pinnacle Hotel.
For Goulet-Lang, a Grade 12 student at St. George's School, it was his first venture into politics. His high-school buddy was an old hand. "I've volunteered for Kevin Falcon and for John Cummins," Paulus told the Georgia Straight, referring to a B.C. Liberal cabinet minister and a federal Conservative MP.
Goulet-Lang and Paulus were part of a noisy group of Sam Sullivan supporters at the nomination meeting. Melissa De Genova, 22, organized the volunteers, who were all wearing Sullivan T-shirts and carrying signs. "I'm trying to recruit as many young people as I can," De Genova told the Straight. "I think young people need to be educated on what's important in government."
De Genova, daughter of veteran NPA park-board commissioner Al De Genova, said that approximately 20 young people volunteered on Sullivan's campaign. Paulus was the one holding the sign saying "Welcome to Sullivan country" near the top of the escalator.
Sullivan country it was when the 45-year-old NPA councillor narrowly defeated former B.C. Liberal deputy premier Christy Clark for the party's mayoral nomination. De Genova said she is a great admirer of Clark but she supported Sullivan because she likes his approach and opposes the idea of parachuting high-profile candidates into the mayoral race.
"I think we need to get past the charisma," she said. "The person who stands up and gives the best speech isn't necessarily the person who has the best ideas or who is going to be the best leader. This is something I've learned from my father."
The Christy Clark campaign got a big boost from the Young Liberals, she added. Clark's Web site (www.christyclark.ca/) was loaded with pictures of the candidate surrounded by young supporters. Some of the same people were at the nomination meeting, sporting "Youth for Christy" T-shirts.
There is also a Young Non- Partisan Association, which is chaired by Anna Lucarino. According to the NPA Web site (www.npa.bc.ca/), the YNPA aims to educate Vancouverites between 18 and 35 about municipal issues.
Earlier this year, COPE, the left-wing municipal party, hired a youth-outreach coordinator, 21-year-old university student Marena Winstanley. She is organizing a Halloween event that will feature comedians and musicians.
De Genova said that the Sullivan campaign and the YNPA want to engage young people in identifying issues and developing policies. The party has also recruited younger candidates, such as comedian Patrick Maliha, to run for city council. Maliha is probably best known as one of the Movie Guys on Shaw's Urban Rush television program.
De Genova claimed that Sullivan approaches politics in a different way than many older elected officials. She said he prefers to gather input before making a decision, rather than imposing his opinions on people. "He is a very humble politician," De Genova said. "It's not about the show."
Unlike some politicians who have fairly mundane backgrounds, Sullivan has a dramatic life history. Born in Vancouver and raised on the city's East Side, he lived like any other teenager. Then at the age of 19, he had a skiing accident on Cypress Mountain that turned him into a quadriplegic.
Sullivan lived on welfare for seven years. He pulled himself up by creating charities for the disabled and getting elected to city council, and now he is vying for the mayor's chair. Sullivan told the Straight that this tale has had an impact on some of his younger supporters. "I think they were really excited by the story," he said.
Leslie Benisz, a 35-year-old West End resident, told the Straight that he supports Sullivan in part because the city councillor has come a long way with a disability. Benisz said that he has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. He added that despite this, he works for a living selling cosmetics and is an active volunteer on Sullivan's campaign.
"I want to support him because I think we really need to set an example that people with disabilities can achieve anything they desire if they're willing to work hard," Benisz said.
The other Vancouver city councillor in a wheelchair, COPE's Tim Louis, told the Straight that he thinks voters should focus their attention on Sullivan's voting record. Louis said that if they did this, they might be more worried about him becoming the city's next mayor.
"The Woodward's development would have come to a screeching halt had Sullivan's position carried the day," Louis said. "He voted against the library's 'ready for reading' program. He voted against keeping the libraries open in the summer. He has voted against, and continues to vote against, the city's child and youth advocate. On issue after issue, he votes against the citizens of Vancouver."
Louis claimed that Sullivan's voting record is "twice as frightening" as the prospect of Christy Clark becoming the next mayor of Vancouver.