The Silent Youth of Northern British Columbia

Melanie Bellwood | News Director

There has been a definite concern within the Canadian political environment for decades — how can Canada’s youth participate in national discussions? As times have changed and generations have evolved, so has the political approach to Canadian participation in national and international affairs. A system that used to deny much of the population the right to vote, has changed to seek equality in gender, race, and most recently, age. With this, comes a push from our government to encourage young people to become more involved in federal, provincial, and even municipal matters. This month, the University of Northern British Columbia played venue to one attempt to accomplish a strong youth representation in Canadian government; the success of which was subjective to the beholder.


Statistics Canada states, “the proportion of the population aged 24 and younger has been steadily declining over the past four decades… from 48.1% to 29.9% of the population.” While this may be the case, nearly a third of the population is a significant amount of people. A push to get this thirty percent under thirty years more involved in our federal decision making has been first and foremost in the eyes of Canada’s majority political parties. The question then becomes, “does Canada’s youth want to be heard?”


UNBC’s Youth Conference (as part of the nationwide For Youth, With Youth consultation) was held for the first time in Prince George in hopes of encouraging such participation. Facilitated by Canadian International Model United Nations delegate and Undergraduate student Karista Olson, this event sought to invite Northern B.C.’s youth to attend a special “forum to talk about issues and concerns that matter to them the most” on Saturday, August 18.


Olson, who is well-versed in the world of Canadian politics, spent weeks advertising and preparing for the event. Discussing her role in the forum, Olson said, “I am the volunteer local organizer for the For Youth, With Youth Policy Consultation process to create the federal government’s first youth policy. We are looking for youth to engage in a series of topics, and the government has identified six core themes that we will be asking youth to come together in groups and discuss, regarding what is important to them personally within these themes. The data collected will be compiled to create actual policy recommendations. This Prince George session, which is one of 25-30 sessions happening across the country, will produce reports given to Youth Consultation Project Manager Morrell Andrews to assess. Beyond that, Morrell has been promised a seat with the privy council in Ottawa, making this one of the most direct routes for youth in Northern BC to contribute in a real and meaningful way to federal decision making.”


Olson went on to describe why she believes this event was important to youth in our region. “All too often when youth is engaged in politics, it is done with too many steps in between what youth put down on paper and what the government actually sees. One of the great things about how this series has been designed is it eliminates the middleman and creates a direct avenue of access. Sessions have already happened in places like Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Edmonton. Why shouldn’t they be here as well?”


Olson’s interest comes from a deep-rooted understanding and involvement in the process and planning of youth involvement in Canadian politics. Having contacted the For Youth, With Youth organizers directly to make this forum happen, she was putting her knowledge and experience to good use in order to bring an important event to the Prince George area. “When I asked about holding a session [the representative] was excited. She said they wanted as many sessions as possible in as many places as they could have them. None of us are paid. It really is just a matter of believing that this is important and putting in the hard work. Prior to this I was involved in the Board of Directors for the United Nations Association in Canada, researching and creating a report that workshopped the role of youth in Canadian peacekeeping for a forum in Vancouver. When you look at what that means and talk to people throughout our region (we spoke to CNC delegates and nationwide independents as well), it is extremely important.”


It was not only Olson who came to support to involvement of youth opinion, however, as many other important faces from Prince George’s community attended the Youth Consultation on August 18. City Councillor Garth Frizzell made an appearance, acting as a participant in the day’s discussions. Also present and active were Don Ireland and Erika Driedger of the Prince George Branch of the United Nations Association. As introductions and discussions got underway, however, an important piece of the puzzle was missing: the youth. In an event prepared for forty people, only eight participants showed up, a far cry from the nearly one hundred that had expressed interest over online avenues such as Facebook and Eventbrite.


Although the turnout was unexpectedly small, organizer Karista Olson took matters excitedly into her own hands, with incredible results. Instead of splitting into groups of five and tackling themes like Job Opportunities, Health & Wellness, Reconciliation, and Climate Change in forty-five minute sessions, Olson led the group of eight participants in an in-depth exploration of what these themes mean and how they can be approached by Canadian youth. The result was stunning, as four hours flew by during the analysis of perspective, understanding, and protection for young Canadians.

So, what does this mean for youth involvement in Canada? Was the forum a failure? If one were only to count the number of participants as its success rate, then indeed, the Youth Consultation produced less than satisfactory results. It is also important to consider a different mindset, one that was not lost on Olson, Councillor Frizzell, or anyone else that did participate. A discussion was had, including many different perspectives, and because of that it was able to provide the Youth Consultation process with exactly what it was looking for — a view of what is important to youth in Canada.