Youth invited to serve on Foothills MP’s advisory committee

·5 min read

It has been a year and one week since Canadians voted in the 2019 federal election. Seventy-seven per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots. Significantly, 68 per cent of youth voters aged 18 to 24 went to the polls, indicating a steady increase since 38.5 per cent voted in 2004.

Seeing more young people engaging in the political process is a good thing, says John Barlow, member of Parliament for Foothills, but it’s not something that surprises him.

“Last election we did quite a few forums in high schools. The young people who were participating were really engaged — they weren’t glossing over, they weren’t falling asleep,” he says.

“Speaking to the students afterwards, a lot of them knew the issues, they knew what they were talking about and they were saying, ‘Well, my parents don’t really vote but I tell them who to vote for,’ ” Mr. Barlow says with a laugh.

“Kids today are on social media, they’re following what some of the issues are, so I think they are more engaged but they just have never had a platform to express their views with elected officials.”

To that end, the MP is inviting youths aged 14 to 24 to join the Foothills Youth Advisory Committee.

Created in 2018, the committee is an opportunity for young people in the riding to meet as a group with Mr. Barlow and constituency assistant Olivia Mackay to bring up issues and concerns youth have at the local and national levels.

“The idea for me is really to let the young people drive the agenda and drive the issues,” Mr. Barlow explains. “I’m there to listen and hear their feedback because I think sometimes elected officials like to think they know everything and sometimes we have to admit we don’t.”

Initially, meetings were held once a month in High River, but in accordance with public health recommendations, the committee will meet online through Zoom. Given the large size of the riding, Mr. Barlow says, the online format will make it easier for people to participate.

Currently there is no limit to the number of youth that can join the committee, though filling an online registration form is required so Mr. Barlow can get a sense of the group’s general interests and backgrounds.

One thing that is not required, he stresses, is any political allegiance.

“You don’t have to be a Conservative — it doesn’t matter to me what your political stripe is on this. We want everybody’s point of view,” he says.

“Everybody’s point of view has merit; this is not an ‘Ottawa knows best’ approach we’re taking to this. I legitimately want to hear what the young people of Foothills are talking about and what are the issues that they are passionate about.”

The receptive atmosphere, agrees past committee member Nick Housenga, a Grade 12 student from Fort Macleod, makes the discussions informative and worthwhile.

“Committee meetings are a lot of fun! They boil down to discussions of what we think of current events in government,” Nick says. “MP Barlow is receptive to any kind of feedback I’ve seen come up.”

Encouraging youth participation in politics, he adds, is essential to guiding the country through current challenges and preparing the next generation of voters.

“Youth are going to be the most affected by policy on issues like how effectively climate change is combated, so it is important for them to pay attention to how current leaders are working towards these kinds of issues,” says Nick.

“It’s essential that voters know what they are supporting, whether it’s their first or their 15th time voting.”

Josh Leith, a third-year agribusiness student at Lethbridge College, also believes having youth provide feedback will have long-lasting effects.

“We may not fully realize [it] right now, but the choices and actions made by our current government will have everlasting effects on the future generations to come,” he says.

The opportunity to learn more about how Canada’s parliamentary system works, Josh says, is another perk of joining the FYAC.

He also feels serving on the committee provided an opportunity to learn about national and provincial issues in-depth, since information packets and links to websites discussing topics are provided before meetings to facilitate discussion. Talking to Mr. Barlow about different bills being discussed in the House of Commons was particularly helpful.

“It was a great way to learn also about the current events that are affecting the Foothills riding as well as Canadians as a whole,” says Josh. “It’s a fun way to meet new people from around our riding and to listen to what their concerns may be and how it may be relevant to your part of the riding, and to give your thoughts and opinions on it.”

Mr. Barlow hopes the committee will attract youth who are looking to get involved in something meaningful while broadening their perspectives.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in politics; it doesn’t matter if you know the issues necessarily,” he emphasizes.

“If you’re interested in what’s going on in your community and the impact you can have in your riding and potentially across the country, the ideas and policy ideas we come up with here could very well drive policy with the future government. There’s great potential here.”

Applications to join the FYAC are due Oct. 31. Application forms are available online at https://bit.ly/FYACapply and should be emailed to Olivia at foothillsyac20@gmail.com.

Additional information about the committee is available on the FYAC’s Facebook page at https://bit.ly/FYACfacebook.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze