The Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament is hosting a municipal debate simulation at the St. John’s city council chambers on Oct. 26.
As the saying goes, young people are the future. So, a St. John’s-based youth group is making their way to city council to debate that future.
Nicholas Hillier, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament, wants young people to know their voices and their votes matter. In the midst of a rocky political climate, he says it’s important their perspectives are taken into account by those in power.
“We’ve got to look at young people as citizens – we’re just as much citizens as the 65-70 year olds out there,” said Hillier. “Young people live looking towards the future more than any other generation.
“We know that they’re future focused, they’re going to engage in politics for many years,” he said with a nod.
It’s a sentiment that St. John’s Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary agrees with.
“Everybody says all the youth are the future; the youth are actually the now, so it really is important that that voice is represented,” she said.
When it comes to the polls, she says voter diversity is extremely important, and that includes diversity in age.
“Young people are passionate … we’re the generation that can make a change. They gotta start listening.“– Nicholas Hillier
Hillier shares a similar view.
“When people say, ‘my vote doesn’t make a difference,’ yes it does,” said Hillier. “Because you take your vote out of the process, and every person starts having that attitude, that’s when the overall voter turnout goes down.”
In 2017, O’Leary says she pushed for a youth representative on the city council, but they ultimately decided to support the council Youth Advisory Committee instead. However, she was delighted to see that someone under the age of 20 was acclaimed to the Bay Bulls town council early this week.
Hillier smiled at this reference, saying the new councillor turned out to be his good friend and youth parliament vice-president, Ethan Williams. He says it’s inspiring to see someone so young getting directly involved in municipal politics.
Municipal politics, in fact, is the focus of an upcoming debate presented by the province’s youth parliament in partnership with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. On Oct. 26, delegates from across the province aged 15-24 will simulate a municipal council meeting.
The event will take place in the St. John’s city council chambers, and will be broadcast live to members of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador at their annual conference Oct. 26. Hillier says the debate has the potential to enact change because of that attention.
“You are going to have hundreds of town councillors, city councillors from across Newfoundland and Labrador gather in this one place, sitting over there watching us. You’re going to have all of the youth delegates talking about their real life issues, so they might hear some ideas,” said Hillier.
Topics of discussion may include housing, roads and environment – three pressing issues to residents of any municipality in the province, Hillier says.
“Young people are passionate … we’re the generation that can make a change,” he said.
“They gotta start listening. Because it’s not that you can’t have a bigger say, it’s that the decision makers aren’t listening.”
Heavily involved in social justice and advocacy in her youth, O’Leary says she acknowledges the role young people have in political change, even if it isn’t directly through political debate.
“I never imagined that I would have a political life,” said O’Leary. “And I think most people are like that. So it’s really about getting involved in community organizations … that’s what makes our city and our communities function.”
Although O’Leary is not involved in the debate, she says city councillors pay attention to what young people advocate for.
“I’m always looking at what’s happening,” she said. “There’s a lot of really, really serious issues. With municipal politics, we are the boots on the ground, but oftentimes, we have very little legislative control. But, the first point of contact for people is the municipal government, right?”
Hillier says he knows most young people aren’t as interested in politics as he is.
Among voters aged 18-24, the voter turnout in the 2019 federal election was 40.5 per cent, down seven per cent from 2015.
Madison Ryan is an award-winning fiction writer, a music reviewer and a student journalist. She loves escaping into fantasy stories, but she’s dedicated to telling the real-life stories that matter to our communities. Contact her at @madisonjryan on Twitter/X with news tips.