A publication of the Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication

Michael Qaqish brings young blood to city council

Michael Qaqish celebrated his 29th birthday by signing his declaration of office as new councillor of Gloucester-South Nepean. Dressed in official robes that made them look like a choir, Mayor Jim Watson and council sang Happy Birthday to Qaqish as they posed for their first official photo.Qaqish is the youngest of the 23 Ottawa city councillors who were sworn in Monday night at Centrepointe Theatre.

During his 10-month campaign, Qaqish encouraged young people to volunteer. Tuesday, Qaqish will begin work at City Hall and hopes, over the next four years, to set an example that will attract more young people to politics.

Qaqish, whose interest in politics started on campus at Carleton University, is already encouraging young people to participate in politics. He said most of his campaign volunteers were university political science students.

“It was good to have a young perspective on the campaign,” said Qaqish.

He reached volunteers primarily through word-of-mouth.

“They could relate to someone in terms of feeling more comfortable and working with a candidate that understands them and what they’re going through,” said Qaqish.

Lukas Marshy, a public affairs student at Carleton, spent about 10 months volunteering on the Qaqish campaign.

“It was really fun, probably because Michael was young,” said Marshy. “I’d call him in a heartbeat and help out again.”

Marshy found the race exciting and said he encouraged his friends to volunteer with Qaqish when extra bodies were needed.

Now that Qaqish is in office he wants more young people to care about municipal politics.

“I plan to see what the city can do to help engage youth,” said Qaqish. “I know the mayor, in the past term of council, had a Youth Summit.”

In October 2012, 180 youth delegates met to provide suggestions to the City on a variety of topics including employment, mental health and volunteering. The Youth Summit was hosted by the mayor and Rideau-Vanier councillor Mathieu Fleury, then the youngest councillor in Ottawa. The summit came up with a plan that was later approved by the City.

“The Youth Summit Action Plan has led to some important changes at the City such as the inclusion of a ‘Youth Portal’ on the City’s website,” said Watson in an email.

The Youth Portal is a one-stop access spot on the website where Ottawa youth can look for jobs, activities, and find information on city affairs.

In addition, a Youth Engagement Committee was set up. The group meets on a regular basis, and keeps tabs on what the City is doing, according to Fleury.

“The dialogue is beyond simply politics, it’s also about making our city friendly for youth,” said Fleury who was honorary chair of the summit. “That conversation started through the Youth Summit but it isn’t ending—it’s continuing.”

“It was important to me that the Youth Summit be the beginning of a conversation rather than a one-off,” said Watson.

“Myself and Mathieu Fleury are probably in the best position to speak about engaging youth or having them involved,” said Qaqish of the Summit.

“It would make sense for the younger councillors to sit on that or take a lead on that file.”

Fleury said young councillors bring diversity to the council table.

“That’s what’s interesting about our role,” said Fleury. “The position and opportunity to change things and bring different perspectives into council.”

Qaqish said his young appearance is the first thing most people point out, but not necessarily in a bad way.

“I think most of them obviously received it well—from the results—but there were also people who wanted the experience,” said Qaqish.

Qaqish has six years of experience at the municipal level. He has previously worked for his predecessor Steve Desroches. Qaqish also worked for Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko from 2012 to 2014.

Qaqish said the issues in Gloucester-South Nepean and Capital ward are very different. However, infrastructure and transportation will continue to be priorities for Qaqish as his ward continues to grow.

Qaqish resigned from Chernushenko’s office in 2014 so he could enter the race.

“For the past 10 months I was campaigning for office and then last month was the election and I won,” said Qaqish. “That’s the story in a nutshell.”

Article by Veronica Green