It always bothers me when I hear decision makers, especially political leaders, say “the children are our future,” as the reality is that the decisions we adults make today dramatically impact the future our children will actually inherit. That’s why it’s so critical to make every effort to engage our youth in decision making at all levels of government and that we ensure we keep their rights in mind as we shape their future.
But, engaging young people in our decision-making must, as with all engagement efforts, result in actual influence over the decisions we make. Youth, in particular, are very cynical of the efforts of adults who want to engage them just to say they have and not to actually change the outcome of their deliberations. However, decision-making is often complicated and very seldom black-and-white, and most young people don’t have the necessary background, the patience, or the willingness to compromise required to participate in most decision-making processes (few adults do too!). Therefore, it’s up to us to try and engage youth in ways that enable them to see success, to see the direct outcomes of their input and insights, in order to entice them to participate more often and more deeply in the decisions that matter to their present and future well-being.
Some teachers and activists are very good at empowering young people to influence events and decisions in their community. The year over year efforts of a group of young people, coordinated by a couple of parent activists, toward fundraising and visioning for a new skate board park in West Quesnel is a prime example of how youth can persist in pushing an agenda even when the odds appear to be stacked against them. When the new skate board park is completed this year, I hope these young people will be able to take great pride in their efforts and feel empowered to take on other similar challenges in the future.
Last week, two grade eight students presented Council with a cheque on behalf of their last year’s grade seven class at Riverview Elementary. With their teacher’s help and guidance, the students fundraised for a community legacy project and last year’s class chose to donate the money they raised toward the planned revitalization of Lewis Rink. It was great to see these two young people appear before Council to formally make their contribution to our community on behalf of their class.
There are times though that young people in our community truly challenge us to think very differently. One young girl appeared before Council last year to educate us on the serious problems associated with single use plastic bags, both at the community and global level. Her presentation was thoughtful and detailed and her challenge to Council to address single use waste materials was turned over to an intern working for the City (another bright young mind) who laid out the issue for our Policy Committee in all its complexities. Nothing is simple when it comes to consumer waste!
The initiative and courage this young girl demonstrated in order to appear before Council and to challenge us to take on a complicated issue has now morphed into a complete rethink of how we will be approaching our planned review of our entire waste management system. Rather than simply undertaking a technical review of our landfilling and recycling processes, we will now be engaging in a process to better understand how Quesnel can become a leader in zero-waste and full material recovery initiatives. We also want to engage the public in this process as, at the end of the day, everyone needs to make better consumer choices if we want to truly reduce the waste we create in the first place.
As a Council we will continue to seek ways to engage youth in our decision making so they can actively shape their future here in our community.