At 21, Sergio Morales is in an age group known for voter apathy.
He changed that perception by not only voting in the recent municipal election, but by running as a candidate for Barrie’s city council. And he won.
Morales is the second-youngest councillor to be elected in Barrie; Alex Nuttall was a younger 21-year-old when he became a councillor in 2006.
A fourth-year bachelor of commerce student at U of G, Morales will be splitting his time between completing his studies and representing his constituents in Barrie’s Ward 9. “I didn’t just see public service as something to be watched from the sidelines,” he says of his political ambition. “I saw it as something that was definitely a calling.”
After immigrating with his family to Canada from Colombia when he was seven, Morales spent most of his life in Barrie. “Barrie is definitely my home.” He’s the only one in his family who has political aspirations. “I don’t know where it came from,” he says, adding that his father is an engineer and his mother is an accountant.
His political involvement started as a student trustee of the local school board. He then served as Catholic vice-president of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association in high school and was an occasional op-ed columnist for the local newspaper.
To gain some more political experience before the election, Morales served as an intern for former Barrie MPP Rod Jackson and as constituency assistant to Barrie MP and provincial Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown. Morales also served as the public representative on Barrie’s NorthShore Trail Working Group.
While campaigning, Morales knocked on more than 2,400 doors over 11 weeks, wearing out the soles of his shoes. His dedication paid off on election day when he won 967 votes (51.6 per cent) in a three-way race against Brian Jackson, Ward 9 incumbent and former mayor of Innisfil, Ont., and Jason MacLennan. In an election that saw all other Barrie incumbent councillors re-elected to office, Morales was the only candidate to defeat an incumbent.
“My reaction was appreciation,” he says. “After all that effort in communicating my vision for Ward 9, the residents believed in me. I don’t see it as winning an election; I see it as being entrusted with a mandate. And not just a mandate politically, but a mandate of the vision I brought forward.”
He says young people are often put off by politics because they don’t feel they have a say or that their voices are being heard. That can lead to apathy, but the remedy is getting involved, he adds.
With a population of about 145,000, Barrie is undergoing significant growth, and Morales wants to ensure that growth is managed in an efficient and fiscally responsible way. “We need to make sure that our infrastructure keeps up with the growth,” he says. “We have to ensure that as you add thousands of people to an area, the appropriate investments are made in lane widening and sidewalks, and you’re not concentrating traffic on arterial roads. Those things have to be made a priority.”
He’s looking forward to building a sense of community in his ward by gaining the confidence and trust of his constituents and aims to seek their feedback on decisions that affect their lives. “I really want to end the notion of ‘do first, ask questions later,’” he says. “I want to be an engaged politician who’s not reactive to issues or complaints from people, but is proactive.”
Serving as councillor is a part-time job in Barrie, one that not many people, let alone students, can put on their resume. Morales expects to spend most of his time in Barrie to fulfill his responsibilities as councillor, while juggling a full semester of courses at U of G.
His term begins Dec. 1, five months before he’ll graduate with a bachelor of commerce degree in real estate and housing.
“The next four years are going to be my chance to show the residents that they made the right decision in electing me,” he says. “It’s more of a challenge accepted than a victory earned.”