by Deron Johnston
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities created the Municipal Youth Engagement Handbook, which was “designed to highlight the resources, strategies, and tools that elected municipal officials and public administrators alike can employ to address the challenges of engaging and recruiting young Canadians as future municipal leaders and workers…Currently, young Canadians do not perceive their interests to be represented by the democratic institutions they have at their disposal. This is clear from the declining youth voter turnout that communities across Canada have experienced at all levels of government”.
The Township of Rideau Lakes (which is part of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville) is doing something about this, by creating its own Youth Council. The Municipal Council has created a Terms of Reference document, and Parks and Recreation Ontario, which is helping with some of the financials (including securing grant money through the Trillium Foundation), created a Memorandum of Understanding.
The mandate of their Youth Council is:
– To generate better understanding of the recreation and leisure needs and opportunities for youth.
– Recognize how recreation and leisure can be used to help youth engage and excel in their community.
– To provide advice and recommendations to Council on matters of youth.
– To work in a distinct and/or complimentary role with other sector organizations.
– To implement a program of work consistent with its mandate, and within the approved resources allocation.
– Other duties as assigned/approved by Council.
The Youth Council also has a set of deliverables and performance measures and consumes only thirty hours of municipal staff time per month. An assigned municipal management team member acts as the principal advisor to the Youth Council, which will report to Council regularly. The Youth Council will receive $1,000 to offset meeting costs, and an additional $2,250 for costs associated with training, if the Youth Council wishes to use it. Rideau Lakes is one of five rural municipalities in Ontario that will be provided with seed money and access to a ‘community mentor’ to help establish their councils.
Consider this type of project as a kind of leadership succession planning. Many businesses and organizations around the world understand the importance of succession planning. Communities can ensure a strong future by preparing young people to become the community and business leaders of tomorrow. Doug Griffiths, in his book ’13 Ways To Kill Your Community’, states: “Succession planning is important for all communities, yet I have found very few communities planning for succession in leadership positions as older members approach retirement. I originally believed in every case it was merely an oversight or lack of understanding of the importance of succession planning. I discovered, however, there was often a darker and deeper issue at hand when I actually heard some people express a deliberate desire to keep young people from participating in any sort of leadership or governance roles”. Doug said he ran into one community leader who thought that young people should wait their turn, just like he had to. At first Doug thought he was joking, but then realized he was serious. This type of mindset is very destructive to the future of rural communities.
There are funding and information resources available to make a Youth Council possible. I believe there are intelligent, caring and hard working young people that could make a significant contribution, if given this opportunity. Ultimately, if the current political and community leadership has no interest in engaging young people, we’ll continue to push our youth away and we may end up sacrificing our future in the process.