Student looks for an orange streak
By Karena Walter
Jenn Smith became a political party member at age 14.
Now, five years later, she is trying to capture a riding in downtown Edmonton in an area with the highest rate of poverty in the city.
Smith is a second-year political science student at the University of Alberta. At 19, she is juggling three courses, a part-time job and the New Democratic Party candidacy in her riding of Edmonton Centre.
She was on her student council in high school and joined the NDP on her 14th birthday in 1992. It was the party most receptive to youth and the ideas were the most similar to her own, she said. The party does a lot of community activism in Alberta which attracted her to it.
Smith said she can identify with her peers who hope to end up with a suitable job after they graduate. Tuition fees have gone up 10 per cent every year for the last six years at her school.
The minimum wage in Alberta is another bone of contention. It is $4.50 for people under 18, the lowest in Canada, Smith said. "I think that is a shame."
Campaigning has already begun for Smith who has been doing a lot of door knocking lately. Luckily, her riding has a lot of high-rises so she can stay warm while gathering supporters.
"It's been a big adjustment but I've always given a lot of my time for something so it's not a really big adjustment."
She said her professors have been supportive and she started on her assignments right away, knowing a lot of her time would be filled with campaigning.
Friends are also understanding, most of them being involved in politics themselves and are helping out with the campaign. "We socialize around the campaign table, I guess."
But despite her youth, Smith is in the race to win and she said her chances look pretty good. Her riding has a lot of youth and seniors in it, she said. Youth identify with her and seniors see her as someone to pass the torch onto. "I think my enthusiasm shows through more than my youth." And with a hospital closure in the riding, a lot of people in the area have been hit by cuts and are skeptical about the present government.
Two university councils in the province have recently started their own political party, including Smith's own University of Alberta. "I think it's really good that youth are getting involved," she said. "I think it's the best learning experience I could ever have."
The provincial election has not yet been called but will probably be held in March.