When members of the Village of Ashcroft council and staff attended the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) conference and AGM in late September, they had a special guest with them: Ashcroft student Cecelia McLean.
For the past two years, the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) has sponsored youth representatives from member communities to attend UBCM. When nominees from SILGA communities were sought earlier this year, Ashcroft council nominated McLean, who graduated from Desert Sands Community School in Ashcroft in June 2017, and is currently in her first year of Political Science studies at UNBC in Prince George.
“I was really excited when I heard the news [that I was accepted],” says McLean. “I thought I could really apply the experience to my learning in a way I wouldn’t get in my first year. I have a lot of lectures right now; it was cool to have the hands-on side of it.”
Shelley Sim—a councillor for the Village of Clearwater who is also SILGA president—says that three year ago SILGA took on an advocacy role for more youth engagement in local government. “We wanted students to have a voice, even if they couldn’t vote.”
Clearwater had one of the first junior councils in the province, and in 2014 brought their junior council president to UBCM. “The junior council is the youth division of council,” explains Sim. “They’re the liaison between youth at the high school and council. Our community needs that youth input. They have ideas that are important, and we deserve to give them a forum. Our decisions are their future.”
The junior council president spoke about her experience at a SILGA conference, and Sim says that enthusiasm for youth engagement began to grow. In 2016 SILGA put aside funds for youth to attend UBCM, so that other communities could take part and more students could be exposed to government.
McLean travelled from Prince George to Vancouver for this year’s UBCM, where she was able to shadow members of council and attend all the events and meetings they did. These included seminars and plenary sessions, the resolution sessions, receptions, and private meetings with cabinet ministers and Premier John Horgan.
“I really enjoyed the meetings,” says McLean. “It was great to talk with people on a one-on-one level instead of listening to a speech. It felt very personal and respectful to talk about our community’s needs.
“I didn’t realize that the meetings with ministers and the Premier would be so personal. I didn’t expect it would be just us and them; I thought more small groups would be in there together. It was great to give and get so much information.”
A presentation about the potential effects on local government of the federal government promise to legalize cannabis sales, possession, and growing was of particular interest to McLean, who says that it was very informative. “It was interesting to hear how this will affect local communities. I knew about the big issue, but not the local implications.”
She also found the resolution sessions interesting, noting that delegates’ votes on many resolutions went against the UBCM recommendation. “It was a very democratic and efficient way of deciding things.” The social events were, she says, a good opportunity to meet people in the field.
“It was really eye-opening, and I enjoyed the entire experience. It was great to meet people and learn what they do; see different things to what you see on the news.
“I’m very thankful to SILGA and the Village of Ashcroft for sponsoring me, and to council for bringing me along and showing me how things are done.”