For MP Eric Melillo, a sense of civic responsibility and a love of his hometown of Kenora have motivated him from a young age.
Eric was a third-year economics student at Lakehead University with a full course load when he secured the Conservative Party nomination to run in the 2019 federal election.
“I never knew what exactly my path would be, but I realized I didn’t want to be on the sidelines any longer,” he says.
As results rolled in on election night, it became clear that the voters had chosen the 21 year old to represent the riding of Kenora – making him the youngest Conservative MP in Canada’s history.
He officially received his BA in Economics four days later on October 25.
“I’m incredibly proud of my economics degree. My time at Lakehead went by way too quickly,” Eric says.
His interest in politics emerged in his early teens.
“I saw people like my father have to relocate for work and I saw the quality of life issues faced by First Nations people,” he explains. “I wanted to institute positive changes for my community and my region.”
In 2015, he volunteered for MP Greg Rickford’s federal re-election campaign (since 2018, Rickford has been serving as the Kenora – Rainy River MPP). Eric made himself indispensable, prompting Rickford to promote him to campaign manager. It was a role he proved adept at handling.
“You have a limited amount of time before the election to reach as many people as possible,” Eric says. “Since our riding encompasses a huge area, planning events and getting out the vote requires a lot of coordination.”
I remember looking around and thinking about the members, speakers, and prime ministers who had been there before me.
Becoming a candidate in 2019 gave Eric the opportunity to put everything he’d learned in action and to demonstrate his integrity.
“Whether it was door knocking or debates, it was a very respectful campaign. All the candidates were supportive of each other even though we were expressing very different opinions. That’s vital because you have to represent everyone in your riding.”
His arrival on Parliament Hill was an experience that left Eric a little awestruck.
“I remember looking around and thinking about the members, speakers, and prime ministers who had been there before me.”
But perhaps the moment when the weight of his new responsibilities really sank in was the first time he spoke in the House of Commons. It was during Question Period, so the benches and gallery were full.
“I was nervous, but as soon as I started sharing the concerns of my riding, my nerves went away. I raised the issue of the timelines for building a mercury contamination plant near Grassy Narrows. Since then, we’ve been able to sign an agreement.”
As well as representing Kenora, Eric is the Northern Affairs & Federal Economic Development Initiative opposition critic.
“It’s important to me to make sure that the voices of youth, especially marginalized youth, are heard.”
Eric’s willingness to advocate for Northern Ontarians on a complex range of issues and his passion for politics signal that he is someone to watch in the coming years.