On Nov. 6 the all candidates forum for the upcoming municipal election was held at Music Makers Hall in downtown Fort St. James.
All candidates showed up to the forum and all did an exemplary job. However, there was one thing that was notably missing from the debate: the youth.
Aside from myself, who was there merely as an observer, there was one other young person in attendance.
It’s not surprising, the low level of youth engagement in municipal politics, given the fact that candidate talking points and citizen questions were all but devoid of any youth-related issue.
It’s disappointing to see a community whose youth are so disconnected from the political landscape of their town, but it’s far from anything new. The trend of voter decline has been experienced all over the country. The 2011 federal election had the second lowest voter turnout in Canadian history with just 61.1 per cent of the population voting.
But how can we expect our youth to become interested and involved in the political landscape of our towns, regions, province and country if we don’t give their issues the same level of importance that we do to others. How can we expect young people to engage in a debate that’s almost entirely geared towards seniors and industry?
Don’t get the message wrong, seniors are an important part of the community and with an aging population they’re an important topic of discussion, but so are our youth.
I believe the first step to involving the younger demographic is to include them in the collective discussion. To not just pander to our own demographics but to all demographics.
While some candidates were notably less in-touch with Fort St. James’ youth, it was in reality almost all of the candidates (outside of the school board trustees) who ignored the youth vote. Even the audience had very little concern for them.
Of all the questions asked, of which there were many important and interesting topics, only one addressed youth in the community in any way:
How do we keep our children off of drugs and help those with drug and alcohol issues.
The question itself was one that has been asked of nearly every politician at some point and regardless of the validity of the question, I raise you that the answer to this question is simple: engage them.
Provide for them a voice to speak on their concerns and engage them in the collective discussion rather than ignoring them.
Drug use is most often a consequence of boredom and desperation, so engaging the youth and working to provide them with spaces and stimulating activities in their community can have significant impacts on the level of abuse associated with them.
“Rehab and peer-pressure” that many of the candidates included in their answers should not be the first line of defence.
I would have liked to see more youth voters in attendance, but I can’t blame them for their lack of interest. I’d like to have seen young people as a key issue during the debates, but maybe I should have been the one to raise a question.