By: Zach Siddiqui, Copy Editor
Name: Justin Traviss
Hometown: Port Coquitlam, B.C.
Major: Political science
Fun fact: He loves Dungeons and Dragons
Port Coquitlam is one of those Vancouver-adjacent cities you don’t think about much if you’re not from there. But it has its charm — just like its residents, particularly those of us who attend SFU.
As a PoCo-raised boy myself, it was a pleasure to chat with Justin Traviss, a fourth-year political science student aiming to be elected as one of Port Coquitlam’s six city councillors on October 20. Perched at a patio table at the Waves Coffee on Shaughnessy Street, we talked about his campaign, what it’s like to be running for a government job while still a student at SFU, and what motivated him to dive into the contention.
“I had no real idea how to get my foot in the door — how to get into politics,” Traviss says. “But after I did some research . . . it takes time and effort, but it’s time I’m very willing to put in. It’s been a very great time just these last few months; I’ve learned so much more than I would reading about it or anything like that.”
It’s Traviss’ first time dipping into a city election, and he’s running on a platform of bringing better transit and more reasonably priced housing to Port Coquitlam. He wants to preserve the diverse and amiable atmosphere of the town where he grew up. At the same time, he hopes to represent his up-and-coming generation of PoCo residents, as a candidate open to brand-new ideas and perspectives. Notably, Traviss is visibly the youngest candidate in the election, at only 23 years old.
“I’ve had a few detractors saying, ‘oh, this person doesn’t have any life experience,’” Traviss confides when I ask him about the issue of age. He hasn’t let it get to him though: “Life experience does have a part to play, but it’s not the whole picture. There’s other things in life. I want to be able to bring that fresh voice.”
Though you won’t find many people who’ve run in a municipal election while still in school, Traviss doesn’t believe himself to be particularly unique. He asserts that the key reason most people don’t involve themselves in city politics, Port Coquitlam or otherwise, is lack of information about what happens there. Who handles the water infrastructure? Who pays for new roads? These are the sorts of questions Traviss believes go unanswered for many, especially in our young-adult age demographic.
“A lot of people our age don’t understand how important the city is to their daily life,” says Traviss. “We’re getting into real estate, we’re getting into the market, we’re getting into the economy. Our city — we’re going to be interacting with that more so than the other two levels of government.”
Traviss notes that putting political theory into practice is something he’s been excited about, although that’s not just because of his background as a political science major. In fact, he admits that most of the political science course material is “bigger picture,” and that he only knows three or four political science professors at SFU who are experts in municipal politics. He sends up a shoutout to professors Patrick Smith and Aude-Claire Fourot.
Traviss admits, a little bashfully, that he’s not particularly involved in SFU’s campus life.
“It’s just . . . it seems so detached from your life,” he says of SFU’s student club scene and student politics. “It’s a little bit contained in a bubble. [ . . . ] You don’t see the fruits of your labour when you do things up there. That’s why I’m much more interested in doing things down on the ground.”
Regardless, Justin certainly seems to have the needs of students in mind as he campaigns in his city. I ask him what the biggest motivation is for SFU students from Port Coquitlam to come out and vote.
“If you are living in PoCo, it’s an affordable city; it’s still affordable. I want to keep it that way. You, as a student, probably want to keep it that way too,” Traviss tells me.
“Even if you’re living in your parent’s house [and] you’re not going to move out in [the next] five years, in five years, things can get more expensive. [ . . . ] We want to stem that as much as possible. We want to make sure you have a place to live.”
If Traviss were to be elected, he’d still be just one member of the council. With that in mind, we talk a little about the politics of the city council, and how much ability Traviss would have to bring his campaign visions to fruition. He explains that the council differs from some other levels of government in that there are no party politics: “Every vote is technically independent,” he explains.
“It’s more about your character. If you’re able to present yourself as a character that can actually get things done, other people are more likely to follow you. [ . . . ] If you have facts and stats to back up your points, you’re much more likely to get other councillors on board with your ideas.”
Traviss thinks it would be excellent to see more younger candidates campaign in elections and otherwise get involved in their cities. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the community outside of election season, he emphasizes to me. He suggests looking for volunteer opportunities with the cities, or speaking to your local MP or MLA about ways to engage.
As we wrap up, he encourages SFU students — regardless of where they live — to keep an eye on their local politics, figure out who they align with, and go out and vote.