Last week I had a chance to attend a special council meeting with 13 students from Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS).
The Grade 10 and 12 students paid close attention to the council meeting because they had the task to hold mock elections and enact a mock council meeting the following day.
After the meeting, students sat around the table with mayor and councillors and shared a meal while learning all about our local government.
You might picture this event as one of those meetings with long awkward silences. But it wasn’t. It was a genuine and pleasantly casual conversation about how to make our village a better place to live.
In fact, I honestly don’t know who learned more – the students, council or myself.
First, students had the chance to ask council some questions – whether or not candidates could vote for themselves; how much money councillors earned; and how many councillors were required to vote on a motion.
Then, councillors asked students for their feedback on a variety of issues that currently affect the village.
When asked what kind of facilities students would like to see in town, their answer was unanimous – a pool. Students also mentioned that they would like to see a Tim Hortons and a book store (and who wouldn’t?).
Councillor Susan Schienbein, who’s been encouraging Burns Lake residents to shop more locally, asked students where they usually go for shopping. Students said they usually go to Prince George. Schienbein then asked if it would make a difference if Burns Lake had more options of clothing stores. The students responded that they would probably still go to Prince George because they would be worried about everyone wearing the same clothes.
The meeting even led to interesting topics such as “should Burns Lake become a town, as oppose to a village?” (that topic will certainly be in next week’s paper, so make sure you buy our next issue). Apparently the population of Burns Lake has increased to a point where we can now choose if we want to become a town. Council and students discussed what would be the advantages and disadvantages of making this change. Some questions were left unanswered, including whether or not becoming a town would make it easier for the village to acquire grants (just another reason for you to read next week’s paper).
Council also explained how much money the village has available for its budget every year and how much of this amount originates from taxation and grants (I must confess that I learned more than I was expecting during that meeting).
Kudos to the village and School District No. 91 (Nechako Lakes) to develop this program, called ‘project local government.’
This project has been going on for six years, and it started when village council and staff were seeking a way to involve and educate students about local government operations, and introduce them to potential careers in the local government field. But in my opinion, this project goes way beyond that. Low voter turnout of youth in Canada is not a new topic and it has generated a great deal of concern.
Councillor Schienbein inspired students by saying that youth is the most underutilized power in this country. And she is right – if more youth followed politics and voted, they could bring about change on a number of different issues. I hope LDSS students realize what a great opportunity they are having (and that they learned as much as I did).