Saanich Youth Council

Saanich youth: tomorrow’s leaders inspire today’s
Natalie North, Saanich News

Gold coins sit in front of ten councillors planning capital spending.

Three councillors quickly decide to pour the lion’s share of their assets into parks and recreation, the environment and sewage/storm water treatment.

The coins may be a chocolate prop for discussion on budgeting, and the councillors in high school, but the priorities of Saanich’s Youth Council are just as much a reflection of their community as their older, elected counterparts.

Last Wednesday at municipal hall, Saanich’s director of finance, Paul Murray was the featured speaker.

Murray distributed the gold coins to each group and asked youth to disperse the tokens as they saw fit, following the same list of capital spending areas that was given to residents in a 2009 survey.

“We’re going to see if you’re in tune with the community,” Murray said before hearing their results.

They were.

Youth opinions followed the general public’s closely, with more stock put into arts and culture and the environment and less on sidewalks.

Despite being in favour of more spending on sidewalks, council liaison Dean Murdock has no plans to stop joining the group’s bi-weekly meetings.

“It’s a learning opportunity to make those services in the municipality more accessible,” said Murdock, who is well-versed in student leadership. He was on student council in his Grade 12 year.

This month marks a year since Saanich youth services programmer Alana Stewart formed the group of students, who either live or attend school in Saanich, to offer a young perspective on local decision-making.

Their biggest accomplishment thus far, Stewart said, has been completing a final draft of the group’s terms of reference. Members also act as liaisons to individual council advisory committees.

Stewart, a member of the Gordon Head Residents’ Association, came to Murdock two years ago with hopes of including younger voices in local decision-making.

“It’s given them an opportunity to figure out what their role is and what it means to have youth engagement,” she said.

As a mother of young children – and the youngest member of her own community association when she joined – Stewart says she is comforted by the level of engagement she sees in tomorrow’s leaders.

“A lot of them are taking action in their communities already and that’s what they’re bringing back to the table,” she added.