Asked why he’s running for political office, 18-year-old Vincent Chiu has a strong response ready.
“I’m going to be here for the next 60 or 70 years,” the Green party’s candidate for Richmond Centre said in a telephone interview. “Most other politicians will be gone in 20 or 30. They are not really going to see the full effects [of climate change].”
Chiu is of course correct. Climate change is now all but certain to bring on a global temperature increase of more than two degrees Celsius. That will result in droughts and aridification around the world. Sea levels will rise, forcing cities to either move inland or spend billions of dollars on flood prevention. And forest fires like those B.C. experienced last summer will strike with increasing regularity.
The worst of those effects won’t begin to be felt for another 50 or 60 years. By that time, most of the species’ current leadership will be dead, Chiu noted, and so their thinking about these issues is understandably different from his own.
While young people receive criticism each election cycle for failing to vote in substantial numbers, Chiu said he couldn't wait to run for office. Now, he’s planning for the long term and wants more politicians to do the same.
He acknowledged he faces an uphill battle in Richmond Centre, which might be putting it kindly. Conservative MP Alice Wong won her seat in 2008 with 50 percent of the vote and then held it in 2011 with 58.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Greens received just 4.5 percent of voters’ support in 2011, up from two percent in 2008.
Chiu, a first-year student at the University of British Columbia, already has a resumé full of volunteer work. He’s fighting in Richmond Centre for the Greens after their 2011 candidate, Michael Wolfe, declined to run again citing family reasons.
In a telephone interview, Wolfe said he’s thrilled with the party’s selection for his successor.
“I’ve actually known him since he was in Grade 9,” the Richmond teacher recalled. “He stood out in every way possible, as a leader, an environmentalist, and as someone who can enact change.”
Wolfe recounted noticing Chiu’s potential years earlier, when he spotted him at community meetings and leadership conferences.
“I’ve been there and I’ve seen his development and I couldn’t be more pleased,” Wolfe said. “I was never concerned at all for his age. I know he’ll be tremendous.”
Though he’s running with the Greens, Chiu responded to questions about his priorities with a focus on education, jobs, and employment opportunities for young people.
“I would like to see more respect for trade workers,” he said. “I would like to see more people my age going into the trades. I would like to see free education. Because that tends to pay for itself in the long run.”
Returning to the subject of climate change, Chiu maintained it is possible for Canada to shift away from fossil fuels without sacrificing the economy.
“We have people who are environmentally minded, we have a huge clean-tech sector,” he said. “And if you look at economically sound countries like Germany, 11 or 12 percent of their GDP is in the clean tech sector now. Because they know that unlike fossil fuels, clean tech is going to work for the next 50 to 100 years.”
If there are concerns Chiu has yet to develop the intellect high office demands, he dispels such doubts over the course of the next several minutes. Chiu paints a complex picture of the international economy and geopolitics, touching on Canada, the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, and explaining how those countries’ domestic situations are expected to impact fossil fuel reserves.
“It is a terrible time to be investing in oil," he said. "And we are going to see the effect of that."
This article is part of a series that examines the youth vote ahead of the federal election scheduled for October 19. For more, read "Vancouver groups go old school to mobilize the youth vote for Canada's #elxn42".