“It’s been a way more valuable experience than 6 months of school could’ve ever been,” said Alexandra Nash.
With MP candidate Alexandra Nash, the NDP’s popularity in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding rose by two per cent from the previous federal election.
Although Nash, a third-year Ryerson psychology student, didn’t win her riding, she still considered the campaign a success.
“The last candidate (in the riding) was the former financial minister of Saskatchewan. As a student, who no one had ever heard of, I managed to increase the NDP vote share in my riding compared to a star candidate and at a time when the party was losing popularity,” Nash said.
Although she was already on her way to building a career in politics, Nash, 20, said her decision to run in this year’s election came from an increasing sense of urgency.
“I was watching everything going on with climate change, youth unemployment and prospects after graduation, rising cost of university, (and) the rising inaccessibility of living in cities like Toronto. I basically decided to bite the bullet and had my ‘enough was enough’ moment,” she said.
During the campaign, Nash was working about 60 to 70 hours a week. A typical day for Nash began with administrative work — she personally replied back to every email from constituents. She also canvassed in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding, put flyers in mailboxes, attended debates, and went door-to-door to talk to people.
With such a busy schedule, Nash had no time for school and decided to take a temporary leave to focus on the election. “To me, it came down to what I want out of university,” Nash said. “At that point the answer was to eventually run for office, so the question answered itself. If I don’t need to finish my degree to do this, then I’ll lose very little and gain a whole lot.”
Initially, Nash said her parents discouraged her from putting school on hold. They wanted her to finish her education first before getting into elective politics.
“One day she said, ‘Mom I’m going to do this either way, stop being negative about it because I need your support,’ so I agreed to do that,” Linda Jacobson, Nash’s mother said.
Once the campaign began, Nash’s parents saw that what their daughter was learning was not something she would gain by sitting in a classroom. Nash said they became her biggest supporters.
Both of her parents were activists during the apartheid in South Africa, which meant that Nash was raised to talk about politics at the dinner table and to be socially aware of the world around her. Jacobson says that from a young age she had a good sense of fairness and the difference between right and wrong.
Jacobson, who managed the campaign’s finances, said she witnessed Nash’s perseverance and ability to hold her own through difficult moments of the campaign.
“It’s hard and grueling work, but she was out there day after day,” Jacobson said. “Sometimes people would yell at her or slam the door in her face, others would get emotional and tell her their life story, it was a lot of emotional burden on her.”
Jacobson added, “The other thing that was striking was seeing her in three debates for our riding. She’s up on-stage with the sitting MP and people who were much more experienced in politics, and yet no matter what, she held her own.”
As a young person, Nash was inspired by her sister’s friend Rayne Fisher-Quann, who started the “Student say no” movement and the March for our Education. Once Nash witnessed a young person like Fisher-Quann make moves in the political climate, she realized that running for office at the age of 20 was doable.
“I have been watching politicians gambling with my future since I was old enough to know what politicians were, the disenfranchise of young people is very real,” Nash said.
Nash is one of many young people who’ve campaigned as candidates under the NDP. According to a survey by the Forum for Millennial Leadership, millenials make up about 17 per cent of MPs in the NDP party.
“Young people need more of a stake in this country, they’re talking about what will be done with climate change in 2050, half of the politicians voting on those decisions will be dead by then,” Nash said.
Peggy Nash, a former NDP MP for the Parkdale-High Park riding, said there should be more representation of young women in the House of Commons. “The issues that disproportionately affect young people don’t always get reflected in the dominant political debate,” Peggy said.
Nash met with Peggy while she was working as a visiting professor at Ryerson. As Peggy is also an expert in democratic engagement, Nash reached out before the campaign for advice on what was to come.
Peggy said that anyone who’s thinking of running needs to understand why they’re doing so, outline their goals for the campaign and do their homework so they’re prepared for what they’re getting into. Anyone in Canada of eligible voting age is able to run as an MP candidate.
“I don’t think young people should be told, well, one day you’ll be a leader,” said Peggy. “I think it’s been shown that young people are leaders now and I think their leadership is valuable, and frankly, certainly needed.”
Nash will be returning to classes at Ryerson in January, however, she said the experience of running in elective politics was a valuable one.
“My favourite moment during the campaign was when someone told me ‘politics in Canada always comes down to voting against someone, but after having met you now there’s someone that I want to vote for,’” Nash said.“That’s going to stick with me forever, that can’t happen in a classroom.”