January 13, 2021
By Liliana Bechtold
Like other students, shifting to online learning has left Munk One alumna Renee Jagdeo with some spare time on her hands this year. Unlike other students, she’s spending that time campaigning for a city council seat in the Ward 22 (Scarborough-Agincourt) byelection on January 15, 2021*. If she wins, Jagdeo, 19, would be the youngest city councillor in Toronto’s history. “Politics operates to set priorities in our society, and I was interested in what it would look like if someone like myself was involved in that process,” she says.
Jagdeo says that her time in the Munk One program and its focus on tackling local and global challenges hands-on was part of what inspired her to run. In the program’s Global Problem-Solving course, Jagdeo and a team of other students came up with a proposal to introduce underground “green walls” into the transit system with the goals of improving air quality and making green space in the city more accessible. The team has continued to pursue their project outside of the course, and is hoping to bring it to life through public or private partnerships in the future.
Green and recreational space is one of the main points of Jagdeo’s platform, alongside housing, improving public transit, COVID-19 response, community safety, and economic development. “The platform is a mixture of things that work to serve the Ward and things that apply to the city more broadly,” she says. For example, while her transit policies — like the increase of express bus routes and a Sheppard corridor subway extension — are tailored to Scarborough-Agincourt. Other ideas, like considering the use of public surplus land to build mixed-unit housing, are geared towards the city as a whole.
“I don’t think this would be considered a traditional campaign even in ‘normal times'”RENEE JAGDEO
Running a campaign as a young person during a pandemic has definitely been a unique experience, Jagdeo says, but she wasn’t expecting anything else. “I don’t think this would be considered a traditional campaign even in ‘normal times.’” Jagdeo has focused her campaign on creating a presence on social media, doing interviews with media outlets like BlogTo and Narcity, holding Zoom town hall meetings, and doing mailbox literature drops. It’s a lot to handle—but help from her fellow students, as well as her family and friends’ support, have been invaluable, she says.
Of course, mounting a campaign for public office at 19 years old presents unique challenges. One of the most prominent, according to Jagdeo, is that young people are often dismissed due to a lack of experience. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me ‘you should own a house first, or have a family, before you run for office’,” she says. “But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to own a house, or if supporting a family is going to be feasible for me. That’s a reality for a lot of people in this city—because of their age, or economic situation, or other factors—but it’s overlooked because the people who represent us don’t necessarily experience those same difficulties.” A city council that is more diverse in terms of age, race, gender, and economic status, Jagdeo says, will be better able to consider the diverse social, cultural, and economic realities of Torontonians when making policy decisions.
The idea that student communities are underutilized in politics is another major driving force of Jagdeo’s campaign. For her, campaigns and politicians reaching out to involve students is key. “My peers are some of the smartest people I have ever met,” she says. “They’re doing incredible things, and it’s a shame that their ideas haven’t been implemented or given a voice yet.” She also thinks that more young people, especially students, should run for public office, even (perhaps especially) if they aren’t in a “traditional” major like Political Science or Law. “Having a background or training in a unique discipline allows you to think about and evaluate policy from new perspectives,” she says.
“If you go into politics because you’re genuinely passionate about solving something, it really shows”Renee Jagdeo
Jagdeo hopes that her campaign can incentivize other young people to get involved in politics. She is planning on holding a virtual event after the election to speak with other students and young adults about the realities and possibilities of running for office. As for advice for other young people thinking about participating in politics, she says that the most important pieces of the puzzle are integrity and passion. “The best advice I’ve gotten so far is that you have to constantly evaluate yourself and stay honest,” she says. “If you go into politics because you’re genuinely passionate about solving something, it really shows.”
*Update (January 16, 2021): The Ward 22 by-election in Scarborough-Agincourt was held on January 15, 2021. Nick Mantas was declared the winner.