When Sa-Hali secondary student Stanley Wong heard his school was holding elections for a junior council representative, he says it sounded like an opportunity he didn’t want to miss.
Like 16-year-old Wong, several students representing Kamloops high schools on the City of Kamloops’ junior council committee said the experience has been a good opportunity to learn about local government.
“I'm really glad that we have this opportunity, because I've felt for a long time that nobody really listens to teenagers. But I feel like at these meetings people really treat us with respect, and we get to provide our input,” Wong told Castanet Kamloops.
Valleyview secondary student Kiran Ramsay, 18, said he was also interested to learn about what happens in the community. He said the information and education he's received while serving on junior council have been valuable for him.
“It also helps me form an opinion on what interests I have, and whether maybe careers I might want to pursue to be involved with the community," Ramsay said.
The mandate of the junior council committee — which started in January 2018, according to the city — is to provide an opportunity for Kamloops youth to gain more knowledge for the local government system and to provide council with a youth perspective on issues impacting the city.
Junior council meets monthly in the council chambers at city hall.
Jacob Wilson, an 18-year-old South Kamloops Secondary student, said this is his second year serving on junior council.
“Every month, we get presentations from city staff and sometimes councillors, and we just learn about what’s happening around our city. We request topics that interest us,” Wilson said.
“Last year, we did a lot of climate-focused, climate-heavy presentations, this year as well. But we just learned really what we're interested in learning. And this year, we've had a lot more input.”
At their meeting on March 14, four members of junior council heard a presentation from city staff reviewing the supplemental budget items currently being considered by mayor and council, as well as the city’s EV-ready bylaw.
Junior councillors were able to weigh in on on the supplemental budget items that were most important to them.
Two members of junior council indicated that funding the city’s Community Climate Action Plan was important to them, while a proposed budget ask for public wifi was defeated by junior council.
“Today’s meeting was really interesting as we really had for the first time input, that our recommendations will go to council," Wilson said.
"Last year, we presented to council about what we've learned in the end, but we didn't necessarily have recommendations go to council. So I think it's very interesting that we're getting input, and they'll be able to see what we think."
Ramsay said he believes junior council helps to underscore to the importance of youth perspectives.
“It really brings an awareness and an appreciation for the youth, not necessarily just Kamloops specifically, but any other organization might do this, just that they're considering all perspectives of different age groups,” Ramsay said.
The junior council members say they have learned a lot about local government and the community.
Wong said it’s been interesting to learn about what happens within city hall to address community issues.
“I always feel like a lot of people tend to just complain about what's going on, saying like, ‘Oh, there's a pothole,’ or whatever. But I was really interested in learning about how these decisions are made, and how they address these issues. And I think that's really interesting to me, learning about why that pothole hasn't been fixed yet,” Wong said.
Coun. Sadie Hunter was present at Monday’s meeting and helped to coach junior councillors through the council procedures.
“In this time of apparent voter apathy and disconnect it is vital to have youth who are engaged and aware. I’ve had the honour of working with this group and hope the experience will lead to a continued interest, understanding and engagement in the issues that impact daily life,” Hunter told Castanet in a statement.
“It is imperative to have this representation so their voices and perspectives are considered in decision making and for them to have the ability to be leaders amongst their peers. I have no doubt these students will go on to have an impact in their future endeavours.”
Ramsay and Wilson are now old enough to vote, and they say this experience has helped them think about their own opinions in the context of casting ballots in the upcoming election.
Ramsay said it’s important for youth to be educated and involved in politics.
“Especially as the younger generation, we are the future. So as educated and as involved, we get to have most positive impact on our city and our country and abroad is very, very essential,” Ramsay said.
“I also believe that education is very important,” Wong said.
“Even if we don't necessarily make decisions now at the age we are, if we learn more about how to make these decisions, we'll make better educated decisions in the future.”
Wilson said junior council presents a great opportunity for any high school student eager to learn about their community.
“Even if you're not even remotely interested in politics or anything like that, it’s just a great opportunity to learn, if you want to learn about your city, if you want to be more engaged in community,” he said.
“It's just a great, great opportunity. I'd recommend it to anyone.”