No Seat At The Table
For some time, there have been voices missing in politics, at all three levels. There has been one voice in particular that has been missing, that is the voice of young people.
According to Elections Canada, only 38.8% of eligible voters between the ages of 18-24 voted in the last federal election in 2011. This is by far the lowest turnout of all of the age groups both in percent and the actual number of voters (1,154 402). The highest voter turnout group as a percentage was for ages 65-74 which was almost double at 75.1%. However, the highest number of actual voters was in the 45-54 age group with 3,271,283 people that voted.
According to the library of parliament, the average age of an MP is 53.45 years. There are only two MPs who are under 25 out of the total 305 members of parliament. This clearly demonstrates that the youngest group of eligible voters is not proportionally represented at the political table in voting or in representation.
Though there may be a number of reasons, the biggest reason in the minds of young people that I’ve spoken to is that they are simply not encouraged to vote or participate. There are sometimes youth committees within political parties, but if a young person was interested in becoming involved in politics at the municipal level, what do they do? Telling them to go to council meetings is simply not the answer. Do they have access to a vehicle every Monday night? They may have a part time job at night that makes it difficult for them to attend. They also may have school work, sports or another activity commitment as well.
One young woman that I spoke to during last year’s municipal campaign was both well informed and a fountain of knowledge about the issues facing young people in North Grenville. Some of the things she mentioned were a real lack of organized recreational opportunities (outside of the usual hockey and baseball/softball), a lack of regular access to a vehicle (she agreed that transit would be great for NG), a lack of businesses geared to young people (coffee house that’s open late, movie theatre etc.) and a lack of job opportunities other than minimum wage, service industry jobs like retail and restaurants. Other young people have regularly made the comment that many of them leave North Grenville because there’s very little for them here and they see no future for themselves.
I’ve heard a number of older people make the claim that young people don’t care about what happens in North Grenville. My response to that is, engage them, give them the same opportunities that you have, give them a seat at the table and then see what happens.
If a young person wanted to become involved beyond attending a council meeting, what would be the likelihood of them being accepted onto a municipal committee? Young people could bring new ideas, new perspectives, passion and energy to committee discussions. Just as important, they could bring forward issues affecting young people that otherwise might not be on the agenda of our municipal council. Naturally, young people could also be the best source of solutions to help address these issues as well.
North Grenville municipal council could show some vision and take steps to create a youth council. Just like the municipality’s other current committees, the youth council could meet monthly and discuss key topics concerning residents within the municipality and the youth council could make recommendations in the form of a monthly report. I would be very interested to see a youth council’s recommendations on things like: municipal budgets, economic development, planning & infrastructure, recreation, transit, affordable housing and of course having them shine light directly on the issues that are unique to them.
I think it’s time everyone got invited to sit at the municipal table, instead of having one table for the white hairs and leaving the “kid’s table” over in the corner.
Or at least, that’s how I see it.