By Tamara Cunningham - Nanaimo News Bulletin
Published: October 03, 2013 3:00 PM
If elected officials want more youth engaged in civic issues, they need to give them a platform to effect change, says Nanaimo councillor George Anderson.
Anderson is urging Nanaimo City Council to consider establishing a new youth advisory group as a way for young people to learn about local government and have their voices heard.
With a deficit of youth on council, Nanaimo city officials could benefit from having a direct link to the opinions of future taxpayers, he said.
Investigation into the cost and model of a new youth council hinge on Nanaimo officials signing off on the idea next week, but the municipality wouldn’t be the first to try and involve young people in politics.
Saanich and Victoria both established youth advisory committees within the last decade. The City of Vancouver is set to launch its first inter-generational advisory body of children, youth and families this month.
“Everyone deserves to have a voice in society and so realizing that youth tend to be a disenfranchised group that doesn’t usually have their voices heard at the table, local government is looking to fix that,” said Anderson.
“Young people will be the ones who bear the decisions council makes [on issues] like infrastructure and transportation. If we are able to better hear what the broader section of the community is saying then we can also plan for the future and integrate those ideas into developing the city.”
Youth council advocates say getting young peoples’ input in programs and services has become international best practice, allowing municipalities to better meet the needs of its citizens on everything from library book selection to bike trails and park designs.
Advisory councils work to inspire participation in civic issues and community ownership, which advocates say could lead more youth to the polls and later return to the city to raise their families. Members are advisers to elected officials, champions for youth in local politics and event organizers.
Cities benefit from having a more diverse range of perspectives and a direct link to young leaders.
But advocates warn that in order for the councils to work city leaders must sincerely listen and act on advice from youth.
Kluane Buser-Rivet is the coordinator for the City of Victoria Youth Council, which was created in 2005. She said not truly making an effort to value youths’ opinions can hurt the sense of empowerment and ownership councils give its members. The councils need to be created for the right reasons, she said.
“Bottom line – young people care about the community and want to make it better and youth councils take that desire and gives them a venue to do that and make a difference,” Buser-Rivet said.
Nanaimo city council is expected to consider a youth advisory group on Monday.