Meet the 18-Year-Old Running for Mayor of Toronto

FLARE talks to Morgan Baskin about political apathy, creepy come-ons and owning up to your mistakes (paging Rob Ford!)

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Morgan Baskin wants to be the next Mayor of Toronto. It’s something the grade 12 student—and unabashed long shot—has been interested in doing since she was 14, so don’t for a minute think it was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

In February, the lifelong Toronto resident pressed the ‘start’ button on her first political campaign, filing her nomination at City Hall using money she earned babysitting ($200!). “I was super-nervous because filing papers to run for public office isn’t something I do on a daily basis,” she says, laughing.

Shortly after (and with some parental guidance) she established a political platform —improve Internet infrastructure, protect precious green space, and better utilize and support the city’s immigrant population—all while completing her final year of high school.

The amiable and articulate Morgan spoke to FLARE about the kind of leader she’d like to be, what it feels like to be a role model and what she’s doing when she’s not running for mayor of Canada’s largest city.

You’re 18 now. When is your birthday? I turn 19 on June 19. I’m excited if nothing else because the next time Betty Who is in town I can go to her concert (the last one was 19-plus!)

When did you decide you wanted to run for mayor?
Everyone asks me this question and I don’t have any like ‘I-was-standing-in-a-really-cool place-and-this-happened’ answer, unfortunately. Really, I got increasingly frustrated with the lack of talking about youth issues.

What did your parents say when you announced you were going to run?
They were supportive but skeptical and for good reason. None of their questions were good or bad; they were questions that I needed to think about. They were like, ‘We think you can do this and we think you’re in it for the right reasons but we need to talk about what this campaign is going to look like; we need to talk about your platform points.’

How did your friends react to the news?
I have a fairly close group of friends and I told them early on. They were like ‘Haha, of course!’ And then I was like, ‘No, I’m going to go sign the papers next week.’ And then they were like, ‘OK, this is a thing you’re really gonna do? Awesome. Good on you!’

Once you decided you wanted to run, how did you go about making that happen?
I started on the Elections Toronto website. I was already kind of a politics nerd—I followed Toronto politics really closely over the last four years. I volunteered in city hall in a city councilor’s office [last year] which also helped. But mostly I did a lot of Googling!

Why are most young people so seemingly apathetic about politics?
Because [politicians] don’t talk about issues that we care about and because you can’t identify with pretty much any of the elected officials… And when people aren’t talking about things you care about and no one has ever given you a reason to care about politics why would you care? There’s no reason to.

Who is your role model? Jane Jacobs. She’s an amazing example of an urbanist who actually stayed out of traditional politics.

You’re not interested in ‘top-down’ leadership, but a more cooperative approach. Where did that idea come from?
I’ve grown up in Scouting, which really focuses on bottom up-style leadership, where you put people in groups with a leader. That leader is not there to tell people what to do but to help them do their best and reach their full potential… I think that we elect 44 city councilors for a reason and it’s the mayor’s job to help them work in their wards the best way possible.

What do you think of current Toronto Mayor Rob Ford? My opinion isn’t largely positive When you sign those papers—especially when you take that oath to become mayor—you are taking on a mantle of public service and I think that word ‘service’ is incredibly important. You need to own up to your mistakes when you make them… and apologize and do your best to right them. You can’t lie. I’m sorry. It’s completely inappropriate.

You’ve gotten some creepy come-on messages from male ‘supporters’ since you started your campaign and you chose to release them recently on your Tumblr page. Why? I was looking at the #yesallwomen movement and I saw a lot of brave women sharing stories and I knew that [other women] would want me to share it. Some people have said that I was humiliating [the senders of the messages] but it was really not to make a grand point or gesture or humiliate them or make fun of them; it was just kind of a ‘this happens to me everyday and it’s not OK’ [message].

There has been some fallout on Twitter though. If I was slated to win this election and by standing up for myself I lost, I’m OK with that. I think that standing up for your values and being clear about what those values are is more important than winning elections…Also I’ve gained more than 200 Twitter followers, so take what you will from that.

Who are your supporters? It’s a shockingly mixed bag. I expected young people, of which there are plenty, spanning that whole under-30 section of the population that’s incredibly underrepresented in politics… but [there are] a lot of parents of young people, grandparents and a lot of older people…

What are you doing when you’re not running for mayor?
I’m a full-time high school student so that takes up a lot of time. I’m also a Cub Scouts leader and a camp counselor in summers. But I love to read. I used to watch a fair bit of TV—I watch a whole lot less now!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
Right now I’m super obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’ve been a reader of his for years and the movie comes out next weekend. I have tickets for the night-before screening, which comes with charm bracelets and the whole nine yards. I’m ridiculously excited for that.

How would you describe your personal style?
It’s pretty distinct. I love vintage clothes from lots of different eras, especially the ’50s. I’m really into red lipstick and classic silhouettes. I wear a lot of linen and big poufy skirts.

Do you think you can win the race? I definitely think it’s a possibility. We’re five months out, anything’s possible, it’s politics [laughing].