BY GEORGE ANDERSON AND MICHAEL RIBICIC
In 2014, Nanaimo became a leader in local government by creating the Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council. The objective of the youth council was to create a platform for young citizens to be included in policy decisions and provide advice to local government. Through the youth council, they could advocate for their generation and have a say on the important issues affecting Nanaimo economically and socially. When applications first went out there was an overwhelming response. Youth were eager to be involved in the development of our city.
The NYAC worked towards goals of alleviating child poverty, increasing public transportation, and promoting youth engagement to other municipalities. Some accomplishments include: raising $1,000 for Nanaimo Food Share, holding roundtables with VIU and SD68 student leaders, successfully lobbying the Regional District of Nanaimo to direct 5,000 allocated transit hours to the busiest routes, and presenting to city council, the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities. By no means was this an unproductive group of young citizens.
NYAC last met in October 2018 and its terms expired in December of 2018. Former youth councillors and young citizens patiently waited for a call for applications, but that day never arrived. Instead, a year later, council accepted a staff recommendation to dissolve the NYAC, without consideration of the successes.
After the decision, former youth councillors organized, navigated the local government process, lobbied, and were able to convince city council of the value of preserving the youth council. However, city council stopped by only freezing their initial decision and holding NYAC in abeyance. This decision may stop the momentum that was being built. Moreover, until a call for applications goes out, the future of the Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council remains unclear. Fifteen former youth councillors signed a collective letter requesting mayor and council send out a call for applications within three months to allow the youth councillors to get back to work. Unfortunately, to date, there has been no response.
It is clear the youth council was effective – even if only based on its advocacy skills to maintain the structure of the youth council and ask for improvements.
Beyond the fact the skills and experiences are beneficial to youth councillors directly, they have an irrefutably positive ripple effect with their engagement in the community, organizations, with their families, other young people, and individuals who might not otherwise have been engaged in city affairs. The message is clear: Having a youth council benefits Nanaimo as a whole.
Former NDP leader the late Jack Layton said that young Canadians “need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.” The existence of the NYAC allows a collective voice of young citizens to be communicated to council. But this means truly engaging them on issues of policy, whether it is social housing, the environment or taxation. The skills these young citizens obtained will serve them when they become the taxpayers, workers and homeowners of Nanaimo.
City council needs to show leadership by creating a plan to engage youth with the NYAC, while adding the perspective of youth to all committees. NYAC is proof that investing in youth benefits the entire city.
George Anderson is a former Nanaimo city councillor and Regional District of Nanaimo director and Michael Ribicic is former chairman of the Nanaimo Youth Advisory Council.