YOUTH IN POLITICS: Reporter Tamara Cunningham investigates how youth influences politics at the municipal level during this two-part, multimedia series on Youth in Politics. In this third article, young people react to issues raised by young politicians and discuss possible solutions to engaging youth in community discussion.
If aspiring politicians want something enough, age-related comments won’t stand in their way.
That’s the view of Wellington Secondary student Claudia Thompson, 15, who says for those going into politics “hearing little comments” about age from Nanaimo city councillors just makes them want to work harder.
In a far-reaching discussion with the News Bulletin, Wellington Secondary students and the president of the Young Professionals of Nanaimo discussed youth in politics, from the potential effect of discriminatory comments to the importance of the youth vote and efforts to listen to young people.
The issue of age discrimination in municipal politics was highlighted this week, as a trio of the region’s young councillors discussed publicly their struggle to gain colleagues’ respect, including experiences of being treated differently than other councillors and negative references to their age. In a May meeting, Nanaimo Coun. Jim Kipp, for example, questioned being lectured to by “my 22-year-old.”
The youth watched video clips of age being referenced and weighed in on its effects.
Adam Hawryluk, president of the Young Professionals of Nanaimo, said the dismissive tone is detrimental to any conversation, limiting the ability of someone to offer heartfelt ideas. In this case, an opinion is being undermined because of a certain attribute and that “is definitely because of age,” he said, adding it could possibly deter someone from wanting to enter into politics.
“If it was a woman having an issue with this, yes we’d like to have them treated as an equal,” he said. “We can’t say that we don’t want them treated as a woman because that is who they are and that’s where they come from and they bring a certain level of opinion or perspective from that … but when it’s drawn out as a condescending attribute I think that’s where it becomes an issue,” he said.
Thompson said she doesn’t believe age-related comments made in the council chambers will stop aspiring politicians, but 17-year-old Caitlin Jakobsen said it could justify feelings of apathy some young people already have. The comments are also “discouraging.”
“I think it’s kind of sad,” Jakobsen said. “If you are a councillor and representative of the entire City of Nanaimo, you should be respectful to all the different demographics and age groups and cultures of the city of Nanaimo.”
The trio agrees change is needed when it comes to young people and politics – from increasing the number of youth voters to a greater effort on the side of politicians to engage those currently too young to cast a ballot.
“If these people are going to be representing our community and our community’s desires and if we don’t have a say in who is representing us, no matter at what age, I think the system stops working on our behalf,” said Hawryluk, who has been a part of an effort to encourage more young people to vote. “But you can’t blame a system that you are not part of. You have to become engaged to truly get the benefit of it.”
Jakobsen points out that baby boomers are currently the largest voting population and so the municipality is “a little lopsided.”
It’s a problem because each generation has grown up with different experiences and ideals – and value different issues. She said baby boomers might be more focused on health care, for example, while “our generation will focus more on other things, such as environment.”
Jakobsen said a solution to getting more young people to the polls could be in politicians listening to the views of the under-17 crowd and acting on them – making them feel like they have a little more power than before.