Triumph of the millennials? How values of a very large generation could influence David Eby's political future
David Eby isn’t technically a millennial.
He was already 22 years old when the year 2000 arrived, which means he didn’t come of age in the 21st century, unlike those born between 1981 and 1996.
But for a significant number of B.C. millennials on the progressive side of the spectrum, Eby has been their standard-bearer, railing against money launderers, foreign home buyers, and fentanyl merchants. He promised to clean up the mess of white-collar crime ignored by preceding generations and drove down ICBC costs by taking on the personal-injury lawyers.
He’s also the first attorney general in B.C. history who had a parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives—an immigrant woman of colour, Surrey–Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh—and he gave her the latitude to do her job rather than stepping in and hogging the spotlight.
Plus, Eby was the minister who restored the B.C. Human Rights Commission.
It’s an impressive résumé for millennial voters, many of whom have felt shut out of the housing market and who desire a more level playing field with older generations. Even though Eby still hasn’t declared his candidacy, is it any wonder that he’s emerged as the frontrunner in the B.C. NDP leadership race?
Eby, more than anyone, is shrewd enough to realize that many millennials are far more interested in racial and gender equality than preceding generations, who sometimes mouthed all the right platitudes but retained control through their mostly white old-boys’ clubs.
Millennials, unlike the baby-boom generation, grew up in an era of group learning. Teamwork didn’t only take place on the sports fields, but also in the classrooms. Kids with special needs were not sent to special schools or different rooms to be educated. All of this fostered a greater appreciation for inclusion in the millennial generation.
According to one research paper, millennials are more inclined toward collective action; another study suggested that they are more likely to volunteer than nonmillennials. They’re also digital natives, having grown up with technology, rather than becoming comfortable with it as adults.
Back in 2011, yet another research paper concluded that the most important quality in a boss, according to the millennial generation, is if that person cares about employees.
Many millennials are also highly conscious of the climate emergency, sometimes thinking about it every day, which sets them apart from large numbers of baby boomers.
In addition, many millennials are achievement oriented, which is reflected in the increasingly common marketing phrase: “Become a better version of yourself.”
In fact, baby boomers are often astonished at how confident many millennials are, even at a young age. They’re often not shy about expressing opinions.
This is certainly the case with Eby, who had no problem embarrassing politicians a generation older than him when he was a young opposition MLA.
The leader of the B.C. Liberals, Kevin Falcon, is also extremely confident, even though he’s not a millennial. Born in 1963, Falcon is considered a baby boomer under Statistics Canada’s definition.
When Falcon went to school, there wasn’t nearly as much emphasis on group learning and inclusion. There were no laptop computers in those days, let alone cellphones.
Falcon is actually fiercely self-reliant, which is a characteristic sometimes associated with Generation X. But his libertarian mindset may set him at odds with the collective impulses of many younger British Columbians.
Now, a cautionary note: it’s easy to make too much of intergenerational differences.
We have, after all, a multiplicity of identities. We’re shaped by our parents, socioeconomic class, personalities, interests, ideological disposition, work history, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity, religion, education, and even where we live.
But there are common experiences shared by certain generations. And millennials born between 1981 and 1996 are the fastest growing generation, according to Statistics Canada, with their numbers rising by 8.6 percent from 2016 to 2021.
If they see Eby as one of their own and view Falcon as an old fuddy-duddy, this could have serious electoral implications in B.C. This is especially so, given millennials’ propensity for collective action.