On Thursday evening at the Rah Rah Gallery, surrounded by friends and supporters, Ben Sanders announced his bid for the federal Liberal nomination for the Yukon.
The 31-year-old, who originally hails from Thompson, Manitoba, passed around buttons that read, “We need a new type of BS in politics.”
It’s a campaign slogan that encapsulates Sanders’ desire to change the traditional story-lines that often surround political discourse.
He counts himself a Liberal, but he’s also worked for the NDP and says his campaign won’t be confined by partisanship.
“I think people are tired of the status quo and politics that aren’t engaging or are too negative,” he said in an interview on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m trying represent a new kind of politics that’s more accessible, more cooperative, more transparent and more inclusive.”
Sanders, an engineer and entrepreneur who has worked on both the BlackBerry and the Canadarm, has an ambitious vision for the future of the territory that includes using technology and the Internet to further the reach of Yukon, strengthening both businesses and communities.
Sanders has been in the territory for only a year, but in that span he’s visited every community and said a lack of reliable and affordable Internet access is “holding communities back from an educational perspective and from a economic development perspective.”
“A hundred years ago Yukon had the gold rush, and I’d like to build the code rush and inspire web-based businesses,” he said. “The great thing about that is it’s an exportable product that’s easily scalable and we’re not disadvantaged being far north.”
In order for that to work, however, the territory’s Internet capabilities have to be improved.
Sanders said a possible solution could be found in technology developed by Google: balloon-based wireless networks that operate as floating cell towers and provide connectivity, a measure that could allow for 3G coverage across the territory.
Sanders also sees implementing new technology as a means to further develop the economy without imposing environmental damage.
Drawing from Google once again, Sanders spoke of wind turbines that fly like large kites with electricity coming back down the tether. The design allows the turbines to stay a higher elevation, among stronger, steadier winds that produce more power.
“You can pop these up and you don’t need to build infrastructure,” he said. “It could be a great option for us. I don’t know if it’s exactly the right solution here but it’s something new and innovative that I want to get people thinking about. I want to open the box a little bit from some of the traditional conversations.”
His ideas, while aggressive, are not unattainable, he insists.
Sanders has spent time in Silicon Valley, working on a tech start-up E la Carte, a tablet restaurant technology that received more than $15 million in funding and has since signed a national deal with Applebee’s Restaurants.
Sanders likened the restaurant industry to the political field: both cling to tradition and are averse to innovation.
“I was able to go in with a new idea and it was really hard but ultimately we were able to build a solution that made that industry better. I’d like to bring the same approach to politics. I chase after big ideas, but I make a lot of them come true.”
As a relatively fresh face to Yukon, Sanders will be vying for his nomination alongside former MP Larry Bagnell. It’s not the first time the two have encountered each other.
Sanders got his start in politics alongside Bagnell, when he worked as a page at the House of Commons in Ottawa.
“I have a ton of respect for Larry,” Sanders said. “I see it not so much as a race against Larry but a race against an older, stuck-in-the-mud way of politics. I think people do want to see some new ideas and some fresh blood.”
Other targets of Sanders’ campaign including improving the relationship between First Nation communities and the government, both locally and federally, creating development opportunities for non-profits and pushing voting reform.
Sanders was part of a group in Ontario that promoted a ranked ballot system, also known as preferential ballots.
These ballots allow voters to choose multiple candidates, ranked in order of preference, and prevent candidates from winning an election with less than 50 per cent of the vote.
“If people feel like their vote doesn’t matter fundamentally then they won’t engage in other areas of democracy,” he said.
Sanders will be using ranked ballots throughout his own campaign, encouraging Yukoners to help him make decisions about things such as possible themes at upcoming events.
“Changing the actual system at the federal level is a big task and it will be hard to do that, but instead of waiting and talking about it I’m starting to implement it in small ways right now.”
It’s ideas like this that Sanders hopes will engage Yukoners and ultimately drum up the necessary support needed to win the Liberal nomination.
“People feel there’s too much of another type of BS,” he said. “It’s time for some change.”
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