Article by Jason Setnyk | Photo submitted by Nolan Quinn
Cornwall, Ontario – Political leadership in Cornwall and the Provincial and Federal ridings of SDSG is getting considerably younger as millennials succeed baby boomers in several key leadership positions. In 2019, SDSG MP Guy Lauzon was 75 years old; he was succeeded by Eric Duncan, who was 31 years old at the time (that’s a 44-year difference). In 2022, SDSG MPP Jim McDonell was 68-year-old; he was succeeded by Nolan Quinn, who is 39 years old (that’s a 29-year difference). In 2022, Cornwall Mayor Glen Grant was 77 years old; he was succeeded by Justin Towndale, who is 39 years old (that’s a 38-year difference).
Three years ago, the average age of the SDSG MP, SDSG MPP, and Cornwall Mayor was about 71 years old. Now, in 2022, the average of the SDSG MP, SDSG MPP, and Cornwall Mayor is about 37 years old. On average, Cornwall’s leadership at the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal level is now 34 years younger! In addition, the top-two finishers for Cornwall City Council, Sarah Good, and Carilyne Hébert, are both 34 years old.
The post-World War II baby boom led to the largest and most potent political demographic in North American history. By sheer numbers and a determination to vote, baby boomers have dominated the ballot box since the early 1980s. Although their political power as a demographic is now waning, with the youngest baby boomers being 57 years old, their generation still holds considerable political force.
Although there is some debate about the parameters that define each generation, generally speaking, Baby Boomers are the generation born between 1946 and 1965, while Generation X describes those born between 1966 and 1980, followed by Millennials who were born between 1981 and 1995, and Generation Z who were born between 1996 and 2010.
Locally, what makes the Millennial’s succession even more impressive is that Generation X struggled to gain political power and traction. For example, Todd Bennett and Maurice Dupelle each ran 3-times before finally getting elected. While David Murphy, who is widely well-known and popular, barely finished in the top 10 to secure a seat in 2010. In comparison, in 2014, three millennials made a huge breakthrough by getting elected as Councillors (each running for the first time).
SDSG MP Eric Duncan started the millennial trend of being elected locally by becoming one of the youngest Municipal Councillors ever elected at 18 and the third youngest Mayor in Canada elected at 22.
“I never really thought of or noticed those statistics until now. In recent years, however, I have noticed a real shift in public opinion about the value of having more young people in elected office. I experienced that- and benefited from it- starting in 2006 when I ran for Councillor in North Dundas at the age of 18 years old and when I became Mayor at age 22. More often now, I see a growing number of people wanting a wider range of life experiences in politics- and a variety of age demographics- is one of those aspects. Youthful was often seen as a negative attribute before, now more people are embracing it, and open to younger people with good leadership skills being given a fair chance to prove themselves,” MP Eric Duncan said.
SDSG MPP Nolan Quinn points out that MP Eric Duncan and himself succeeded retiring politicians. The retirement of successful baby boomer candidates will open new opportunities for others.
“I believe we have seen a drop in the age of our MPP, MP, and Mayor by 30 years as we all have family in this area. All three of us are raised in the area and have set up further roots to be active in our communities in the past and future. We all want to see this area thrive for generations to come. Having all of our parents living in the region keeps us motivated to work for all age groups. For myself and my Federal counterpart, we were given the opportunity to run on the desire to retire from politics from the previous members’ longstanding dedication to the community,” MPP Nolan Quinn replied.
Cornwall Mayor Justin Towndale also noted the timing of the MP and MPP retiring. In addition, Towndale believes voters have an appetite for new ideas and changing the status quo. Voters have a desire for growth and positive change.
“I think there are a few reasons as to the age drop. Timing is one factor. In each case, we are young, energetic, and engaged candidates who stepped forward when incumbents retired or moved on. Each of us may be younger but also came with a fair amount of experience and involvement in our communities and a genuine desire to improve these communities. In speaking with residents before and after the recent municipal election, most of the feedback I’ve received in regard to age relates to the idea that we can bring a new way of thinking with new ideas to the table as we are from a different generation. I don’t think that any of us settles for the status quo, and we want to see positive changes. We are also willing to learn. At our ages, I think that we acknowledge that there is room to grow and learn in our positions. We are open to new ideas and hearing from different voices,” Cornwall Mayor Justin Towndale articulated.
According to MP Eric Duncan the stigma of being young in politics is quickly changing. In turn, young people are bringing new energy and passion to their political work.
“When I’m speaking with someone interested in getting involved in politics, younger candidates often hesitate to jump in, thinking that they lack decades of work experience. However, with the right work ethic and areas of expertise, I think the stigma of younger Councillors, Mayors, MPs, and MPPs being too immature or unprepared are shrinking fast. From my view and personal experience, being from a younger demographic used to be seen as a ‘weakness’ or a holdback. Today, it’s seen more positively in that it balances out viewpoints around the decision-making table, and it brings a certain new energy and passion to the busy world of politics,” Duncan responded.
While MPP Nolan Quinn sees this youth movement in local politics as exciting. He thinks it could encourage more young people to get engaged and run for office.
“Seeing the youth movement in local politics is exciting. It is always encouraging to see youth, of all ages, getting engaged in the political process. Having youth involved helps bring new ideas to problems that affect our communities we live in. Having a balanced mix of all age groups in politics is healthy for positive debate,” Quinn noted.
Cornwall Mayor Justin Towndale noticed more youth interested in the recent municipal election, which could translate into more active and engaged voters in the future.
“It’s always great to see young people showing an interest in politics. We need more of this. Since I started running in elections, I’ve gradually seen more and more younger candidates put their names forward and stand for office. These candidates offer new and fresh ideas. These candidates, combined with some veteran candidates, can form a great council. But this goes beyond candidates. This election we also saw a number of high school students want to get involved on campaigns and this is important too. If people are engaged in politics at a young age, it could contribute to a higher voter turnout and better political discourse. I think it also shows that young people not only want change, but they want to be that catalyst of change. They want to actively contribute to that change. They want a voice at the table to represent their concerns and needs,” Towndale concluded.
Will even younger candidates from Generation Z find political success soon? Time will tell. In 2022, Bruce Baker finished in 15th place (536 votes away from finishing tenth), and if he continues to build his portfolio in the community, he could very well be the first of his generation to take a seat at the Council table in 2026.