When members of the Village of Ashcroft council and staff attended the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) conference and AGM in Vancouver in late September, they had a special guest with them, who got an insider’s look at local government: 17-year-old Ashcroft student Vivian McLean, who is in Grade 12 at Desert Sands Community School.
Since 2015 the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA)—of which Ashcroft is a part—has sponsored youth representatives from member communities to attend UBCM each year. Municipalities are invited to nominate students from their communities, and this year Ashcroft council nominated McLean. The initiative is intended to allow students to have exposure to government.
This year SILGA received nominations for four excellent candidates, so decided to accept all of them, paying $2,000 towards each youth’s costs, with the individual municipalities covering any additional costs. McLean was able to shadow Ashcroft council members and staff at all UBCM events, including workshops, forums, meetings with provincial government ministers and other bodies such as the BC Assessment Authority, and the resolutions session.
She was also able to shadow SILGA board members as they attended their own government meetings, including one with Premier John Horgan, who also sat with McLean and the three other students during the SILGA luncheon on Sept. 26.
McLean says that she first heard of the initiative two years ago, when her older sister Cecelia—who had just graduated from Desert Sands School and had started working towards a political science degree at UNBC—was selected as a SILGA student at UBCM. She applied to be the Village’s SILGA student in 2018, but it didn’t work out, for a variety of reasons.
“When I was asked by the Village of Ashcroft [in June 2019] if I was still interested in applying to be a SILGA student I applied,” says McLean. She heard in summer 2019 that her application had been successful, which led to something new. Bearing in mind the venue at which she would be appearing, and the people she would be meeting, McLean had to go shopping for dress clothes.
“It was a very new experience for a teenager to have,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve never needed to have dress clothes before.”
She says that prior to UBCM she had been focusing more on the federal election, and learning more about federal politics than municipal or provincial politics. Before she went to UBCM she looked over the lengthy book of resolutions coming up for debate at the convention, and said that a lot of them were very interesting.
“There were a few resolutions that I was very excited to see, particularly one that amended a suggestion to the provincial government that the legal voting age be reduced to 16. I found that most interesting because it pertains to me and my generation.”
McLean says that there were a few sessions she particularly loved, including a presentation about emergency preparedness.
“It talked about modifications to the 9-1-1 system in the future, gave an overview of the wildfire and flooding situation over the last few years, and things of that nature. Coming from a town that experienced a heavy wildfire season in 2017, I was really happy to see that discussed, as I realized how relevant it was to a lot of communities in B.C.”
She also enjoyed the Small Talk forum, where she was able to learn about the experiences of other small communities across the province. “They talked about how they responded to or avoided problems in their communities. It was really valuable, as throughout the entire week I learned how communities around the province face similar obstacles.”
A third session she especially loved was about climate change. “I had a choice of going to a few different presentations in that session, but chose that one as the subject needs to be addressed in a very timely manner.
“There were a lot of [provincial] ministers [at UBCM], and towns were represented by mayors, councillors, and CAOs sharing things that are really great, or really awful and need addressing. It was great to see the ministers responding in such a proactive way, saying let’s get in touch and figure these issues out.”
McLean loved the resolutions session, which is the core of UBCM. “I loved the atmosphere. It allowed room for people to express their concerns and their support in their special manner at the pro and con mics. I think it’s really important that people can share their opinions and know that they won’t just be shut down or not listened to, so that we can see both sides.
“And the minister meetings with both the Village of Ashcroft and SILGA were amazing. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone my age. Brief as they were, I think it’s amazing because you can accomplish a lot in 15 minutes, or you might not get much accomplished at all, depending on the minister and your issue.
“I think it’s great for municipalities to lobby for their communities and the people who live there.”
Of her lunch and meeting with the premier, McLean says she was very lucky to meet him twice in the course of one week.
“Whether people agree with his opinions and the things he’s done as a politician or not, we first need to take into account [that politicians] are people and we can learn something from them, no matter which party they’re with or where they’re coming from.
“Something I took away from the meetings was advice he gave to me and the other SILGA youth: advice that doesn’t just apply to political situations but to life. A lot of people have said this to me as a young person, but he said there are so many paths and you’ll go down so many. Finding things to do and people to help is really important in life.
“He also spoke a lot about working with the opposition. He not only has to deal with them as premier, but he has also been in opposition. He spoke about the importance of working with people, because they’re also trying to make the province better for everyone living in it.”
McLean notes that it was very valuable to be able to do a lot of networking and bond with the other SILGA students. “We’re the same age, and have a passion for politics. We want to be involved, want to have a voice in our communities. I was able to network with councils from all over B.C., meet ministers, and bond more with the mayor and council and CAO from Ashcroft.”
She says that SILGA has put together a very generous and impressive program.
“As a youth who sees the importance of our political system and is so eager to vote when I have the opportunity and get my opinion out into the world, it’s difficult to find opportunities like this. SILGA will foster learning and confidence in so many youth in the area, and open up the eyes of kids who never would have thought it was an area they could go into as well.”