City of Nanaimo re-thinking decision to ditch youth advisory council

Council to hold engagement session with young people

A city-led youth advisory council is off the chopping block for now.

Nanaimo city councillors have agreed to hold an engagement session with young people to discuss the matter, effectively parking a previous decision to eliminate the youth council.

During their regular meeting on Oct. 21, councillors voted unanimously in favour of holding a meeting with young people to discuss future engagement opportunities and ways youths can be included in local government. Coun. Tyler Brown’s motion also calls for representatives from Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools and the Regional District of Nanaimo to be invited to the meeting. It also asks staff to prepare a report on the meeting.

The move comes roughly two weeks after councillors voted unanimously to dissolve the youth advisory council, with youth representation anticipated on a new committee called the advisory committee on accessibility and inclusiveness. However, following the decision to axe the youth council, members of the public raised concerns.

RELATED: City of Nanaimo moves to dissolve youth advisory council

During Monday’s meeting, Brown said councillors “might have been a little hasty” in their decision.

“I think we are making the decision on behalf of the youth, rather than creating space to initially have that conversation around how they would like to be engaged with, communicated with and included in some of these decisions,” Brown said.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she agreed with the points raised by Brown.

“I think, once again, instead of hearing from the youth, we made decisions, so I would support that to see what they would like to see even with the option of having one seat reserved for committees for them, if that would meet their needs or if they see a better way of doing it,” she said.

If councillors are going to hold an engagement session then “extra effort” is needed to ensure the invitation reaches youths who aren’t traditionally reached, said Coun. Erin Hemmens.

Meanwhile, Coun. Ian Thorpe said he would support Brown’s motion and would “especially” like to see collaboration with the school district. He also said he felt recent coverage focused on axing the youth council and not on including youths in other committees.

“It’s unfortunate that the story on this seemed to focus on the cancellation or the dissolving of the youth advisory council, whereas, in fact, the intent was to include youth on the formation of our new advisory committee on accessibility and inclusiveness, which I think is a good idea,” he said.

Speaking to the News Bulletin, Samantha Bishop, a former NYAC member, said she was disappointed when she learned that city councillors wanted to eliminate the youth council without consulting its members. She said during her time on NYAC, one of the issues she had was that it felt like there wasn’t enough interest from city councillors.

“It just didn’t feel like there was a lot of buy-in most of the time,” Bishop said.

Bishop said she felt including youths on other committees is a good idea, but believes it would be wise for the city to keep the youth advisory council as well. She also said if councillors want to reach a different demographic of youth, they should reach out to various community organizations such as the John Howard Society and Nanaimo Youth Service Association.

“Have existing youth council members target those community associations and do outreach there,” she said. “We have those resources available, they just need to be tapped.”

Bishop said any engagement with young people needs to be meaningful. She said council should understand that it is “very critical” that they listen to the feedback from youths.

“I hope they have done their homework,” she said. “The UBCM has extensive resources on how to engage youth within a community and they identify multiple barriers to youth engagement and one of those barriers is youth skepticism and whether their contributions would even have an impact.” 
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