The Peterborough NDP Executive voted last week to hold a nomination meeting in late-September or early-October of this year. The purpose of the meeting will be to determine who will represent the NDP in the next provincial election.
Dave Nickle, who has represented the NDP provincially since 1999, will be up for nomination. However, two youth will be challenging Nickle for the position: 18 year-old Steve Soos and 24 year-old Joe Grafe.
When asked about the dynamic of two youth challenging a seasoned candidate, 27 year-old President of the Provincial Peterborough NDP Executive, Autumn Corvus, directed attention to an overall shift in youth participation.
“I think if you look at it the context of a younger riding executive headed by myself, what we’re seeing is definitely a re-engagement by Millennials and younger citizens in the political process, and a re-invigoration of the NDP in particular.
“What we’ve seen with the Obama campaigns is that it is possible to mobilize young voters—the trick is getting their attention and engagement in a culture designed to distract them. Unemployment has a way of focusing the mind of what’s important, though, and I think what we’re seeing is our generation starting to tune in, pay attention, and exercise some agency over what we want our future to look like.”
Arthur spoke with all of the candidates about their run for nomination.
Soos has been a member of the NDP since he was 15, a move which was inspired by his law teacher.
“He gave us an assignment during the 2011 federal election that said we had to volunteer with a political party of our choice for 15 hours … I found the NDP was an honest party representing honest people.”
Grafe is a nurse at Peterborough Regional Health Centre. He moved from Burlington to Peterborough in 2007 to go to Trent University.
Arthur asked about Grafe’s involvement in local activism.
Grafe was inspired to become involved in local activism by a nursing class called “political action and advocacy” because it taught him that “nursing is more than just at the bedside.” Right around the same he took this course, the Occupy Movement happened.
“The Occupy Movement was talking about big-picture social determinants of health, the real economic cost of inequality … and for me that really tied together with what I do every day, seeing people at the end of those impacts.”
Occupy Peterborough was his first real experience organizing local initiatives. Since then, he’s been involved in the local labour council, including the May Day event last year, where he organized the social justice walk. He’s also a union organizer at the hospital right now, as well as the volunteer coordinator on the Peterborough NDP Provincial Executive.
Grafe said that being a nurse definitely affects his politics and gives him perspective.
“Health care is a great equalizer; it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, you treat each person equally. There is a certain element of justice in nursing … it allows me to keep that kind of focus on the person who is actually going to be affected by these policies.”
Soos says that youth involvement is his number one concern as a nomination candidate.
He has been a Youth Organizer for two years, starting at the Welland Provincial NDP Executive and moving to the Peterborough Executive after enrolling at Trent University for International Development Studies.
“The position basically involves being the young voice of the party, encouraging youth participation within the parties, working with the youth of the community, and addressing their concerns within the party. The mandate is to educate young people on our party and show them the ropes, as many have done for me.”
He launched a program with MP Malcom Allen to visit high schools and take students through a day in the life as an MP, with the aim of teaching youth about the House of Commons and Canada’s political party system.
With the Peterborough NDP Executive, Soos has been working on making Trent NDP a legitimate group within the university. He aims to bring the NDP to Trent students through events on campus and direct engagement.
Nickle has already been seen on the Trent campus multiple times in the past year. At the beginning of the year, the NDP was the only political party at Clubs and Groups Day.
“I hear feedback from students a lot, saying “We see the NDP on campus, where are the others?” I enjoy speaking with students about their issues. It reconfirms the idea that I’ve always had through 31 years of teaching high school that the future is in good hands. As a candidate it is important to show students that they are important and are listened to.”
All nominees agree that youth involvement in politics is very important. As youth, Grafe and Soos had a lot to say about the issue.
Grafe believes that youth are “disenfranchised” and unable to get into politics based on the life circumstances surrounding their age. With priorities being post-secondary education, employment, debt-repayment, and starting a family, “the time to think about politics and be engaged in that kind of change isn’t as easy for youth as it might be for someone who is retired.”
However, he argues that despite the cliché, youth really are the future.
“With the youth perspective, comes the idea of the balance of experience, perspective, and values. The youth bring the forward thinking… and have appreciation for how fast things are changing and how many times things are going to change in our lifetime, and I think that perspective in policy is getting more and more important.”
In order to reach and engage with youth and students, he believes issues should be talked about more through videos, pictures, memes, infographics, organizing on the campus level, and by organizing on a level that makes politics more about the idea of “crowd-sourcing change.”
He argues that in between election periods, the Peterborough NDP should be active and engage in specific local issues, such as the “drop fees” campaign to lower post-secondary tuition.
Soos is in the midst of creating a Youth Policy Committee as “a way for NDP Youth to voice their opinions of changes that need to be made in our local community and province.” The committee will consist of Trent professors, students, staff, and community leaders.
“Many people believe that politicians don’t listen to their concerns and needs, but I believe if we build a policy together, it will address the very neglected youth voice and give them a stake in the political process.
“Youth have lost faith in our political system because politicians and parties do not reach out to them or listen to their concerns; they are treated as second class citizens.
“I am actually the first university student in my family. My parents couldn’t give me material goods, but they did give me respect, hope, knowledge and love. One teacher told me one time that I would never last in university, that I wasn’t cut out for it, and man am I proving him wrong.”
Arthur asked each candidate how they are different from forerunner Dave Nickle.
“30 years,” Grafe joked.
Age aside, each candidate had something quite different to say.
Soos says that in terms of values and beliefs, he and Nickle are very much the same. However, Soos says his “decorum” is much different, as he claims to be more assertive and outspoken than Nickle.
On the other hand, Grafe took a much different stance, favouring the idea of a mixed economy.
“Dave identifies as a socialist, which I respect, but I am a bit right-of-left.”
Grafe thinks “the pillars of the society need to be in the public interest and crowd-sourced by the community.”
He believes the government is an important player at the table, but not the only player.
“Small and medium-sized businesses is where it all happens—job creation, innovation, co-ops, partnerships, networking, skill-building—that’s where meaningful economic growth is going to happen.”
Grafe and Soos both agree that Dave Nickle is a great person and candidate.
All nominees agree that whoever is elected to represent the NDP in this riding will be supported by the other two.
But what does Nickle have to say about being challenged by two youth?
“I think that Joe and Steve are terrific young men and I’m glad they are becoming involved with the process. They represent the future of the party which gives me confidence in the future of our party, but more importantly, the future of Ontario and Canada. I know and like them both very much.”
Nickle was the Federal NDP candidate for Peterborough in the last election and although he did not become our local MP, he garnered more votes than the Liberals.
“That was not “my” victory over the Liberals. It was a team victory. It was a culmination of hard work by many dedicated party members/citizens who believed that the message of Andrea’s NDP was one that would help secure a brighter future for all of us. I was honoured to be the representative of those people and would be thrilled and honoured to fill that team role again.
“If elected to be the NDP candidate for the riding of Peterborough I will continue to speak for a future of fairness for all of our citizens. A future with a clean, green economy of full employment; and a rebuilding of not only our provincial infrastructure, but in our collective confidence in our, and our children’s futures.”