Views: Room for the kids at the big table

This week, Voice on the Coast, an organization launched in 2011 as a way to “attract, retain and engage” people under 40, was reborn under the auspices of the Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization.

Voice’s mission has shifted a bit, but the core idea is still right there in the name – giving younger people on the Coast a voice in the big conversations about the future of the community.

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It’s a good thing, but I’m more excited about a new initiative to give a voice to a slightly younger bunch: creating a student councillor position at the Town of Gibsons.

The idea was one of the first items newly elected mayor Bill Beamish brought to council at their first working meeting Nov. 20 (see story on page 15).

Beamish, a veteran local government administrator, said he saw it work well in Tuktoyaktuk, where the youth representative came to meetings, spoke on issues and generally “felt that they were being recognized in the community.”

It’s something I’ve seen work well from the press gallery perspective, too.

The board of School District No. 46 (SD46) has included a student trustee since the 2013/14 school year. 

In Nanaimo, a city that made news last term for its dysfunctional council, a Youth Advisory Council of a dozen 15- to 24-year-olds, was quietly going about its business, including offering input on the city’s strategy to address child poverty.

The City of Duncan, another council I once covered, had what it calls the Junior Council. The concept was similar to Nanaimo’s – a group of young people got together to debate many of the same issues as the official council and offer insight and recommendations.

How well did it work? On Oct. 20, three-term Junior Mayor Jenni Capps was elected to council. During the campaign she pointed to her time on the Junior Council as key to her enthusiasm for what can be accomplished in local politics.

The difference, of course, with what SD46 has done and Gibsons wants to do is that the students get a seat at the table with the elected representatives.

In fact, Beamish made a point of showing the public the empty chair awaiting the arrival of the first student councillor early in the new year.

It’s that difference that piques my interest, because it means the work they’re doing gets more public attention and, hopefully, support.

I hope Sechelt is watching what happens in Gibsons, and follows suit.

By the way, we can always make room at the press table for the student journalist who wants to cover what their student councillor is getting up to.

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