At the monthly meeting of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) on held via Zoom Monday, Councillor Kate McNaughton, Ward 1 – Picton offered her thoughts on the need for youth to be a part of local government to ensure their concerns and their voices are heard.
The councillor offered her view points on what the Board has accomplished regarding this topic in more recent times as well as what the County of Prince Edward is hopeful to achieve when it comes to youth engagement.
“One of my areas of focus as a municipal councillor from the beginning has been trying to figure out how to listen to youth voices. When I became a municipal councillor I made it a point to think about engagement particularly because I live with a youth. So I am a Prince Edward County (PEC) municipal councillor, a member of our Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) communications team, I have in the past been a supply teacher, I am a citizen who is passionate about making change and I am also a mother.”
MacNaughton went on to speak to HPEDSB about how young people and their future should be top of every big decision made at council but that it’s not quite the reality.
“I think about the future every time we make a big decision at council and I think about young people and their future and the true long plan,” MacNaughton expressed. “And I think it should be top of mind for every big decision we make at council, and it’s not quite the reality. Although I was very encouraged when I saw your (HPEDSB) new strategic priorities that to me, when I read through them they put values first and they put young people first, and to me they sort of spoke to that youth need for equity and social justice and advocacy and I hope, and I think the spirit of it was something that could allow municipal partners to work together to create pathways to see young people have the opportunity to see themselves represented in their own institutions and in their own democracy, which our two institutions represent.”
MacNaughton also spoke on the need for youth advocacy to get young people empowered and for all of us to be inspired by their creativity and capability. She also spoke on the importance of future youth voices using the example of her daughter.
“I think youth need advocacy to be empowered in that way to actually find ways to listen to their voices and I think it would be empowering for all of us as well to be inspired by their creativity and their capability,” she said. “Amongst every role I walk through in this life being a parent is the most extraordinary. And I think that’s a common sentiment amongst parents at least, and that I feel most privileged to wear, amongst all the hats I wear, is that one that wakes me up in the morning, puts a face on my responsibility to help be a change maker to be of service to the future because it’s her future. She is also a constant reminder of how important the voice of the future is and young people are so often cut out of public service despite that energy and conviction and their profound sense of justice.”
MacNaughton added that the local municipal council doesn’t make it easy for youth to access opportunities to create action and change, and neither do adults. Shutting them out risks making them complacent at a time when society can ill afford afford complacent citizens.
“I think my job as a parent and every one’s job as an elected representative is to help raise thoughtful citizens, not complacent, non empathetic citizens with a sense of hopelessness. And I think school plays such a huge role in that, from my experience it did, and I hope that we can offer something that my municipal council and that the Environmental Advisory Committee can offer something to be of service,” she added.
One of the services available for youth that the municipal council offers is called the Hour-for-Hour Challenge. The initiative is an opportunity for young people to figure out how the local municipal government system works and can earn community hours towards graduation requirements.
“It’s really just a nice neat way of saying come and learn with us and if youth want, we can give community hours in response. It really is just an opportunity for young people to figure out how our system works and to learn more about, at least the local municipal government system and to figure out how maybe they could fit in to it or pathways they could use to advocacy for to do deputations or to create opportunities for public consultation or to find out how to do advocacy for an issue they care about. And we, as municipal councillors we can sign off on the time that they spend and we can be there as mentors if thats welcome, for the time that they spend either advocating for an issue or create an information gathering survey or conduct their own research in some way or maybe just shadow a councillor for awhile to understand how the system works, there is also the hope that maybe somebody might be inspired to some day actually propose a youth council for PEC for the municipalities so that we can actually find a way to codify that important voice thats missing at our governments level.”
A second opportunity through the EAC is the hope to create an avenue for youth voices to be heard and to get the advice from youth.
“(The EAC) is only about a year and a half old and it has citizen members in particular who are keenly aware of the need to represent the future and the need to embody the voices that are currently not being heard at the local government level. There is a way we can create an avenue for those voices to be heard and combine the advice of youth because we don’t have the answers and we don’t know what all the concerns are. Sitting next to an almost 13-year-old, I hear those concerns regularly- ‘Why am I not as an elected representative, why am I not doing this, why am I not doing that, is there something that I can do?’,” MacNaughton expressed. “The citizen members and myself are most excited about and we hope to in the near future dedicate some space to youth and to their voices and their concerns through the County’s survey tool. Hopefully the advice from some of our youth members we are trying to engage with right now, and potentially through some direct outreach we can understand whats needed to help amplify those voices.”
At the end of the presentation Trustee Alison Kelly spoke of some work MacNaughton has been doing since last fall.
“I think some things Kate didn’t bring up, because I know there is a time limit, but some of the other work Kate has been doing to really raise the youth voice is last fall Kate spearheaded the lowering the minimum age of members on community committees to 16,” Kelly stated. “And because of that change, our own student trustee Kayla Zachariah applied for a seat, not a youth seat, just a seat, and is now a sitting member of the Prince Edward County Accessibility Committee. So thats some of the work Kate is doing to really empower our youth to make sure they are provided those options,” Kelly noted.