Council backs off on support for Youth Council Bylaw

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by Tristan Turner

After unanimously passing First Reading of a Youth Council Bylaw at their Aug. 25 meeting, Council has seemed to lose the taste for it in discussions at their Sept. 15 Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting.

While Council cannot make binding decisions at COW meetings, many councillors strongly suggested they would not be supportive of a Morinville Youth Council Bylaw.

While the agenda called for discussing further development of the Bylaw, the discussion was dominated by whether or not a Bylaw, policies or programs could meet the same or similar goals of youth engagement in civic politics.

Councillors Boutestein, Ladouceur, Putnam and Dafoe, as well as Mayor Holmes, expressed concerns with the Bylaw concept. Only Deputy Mayor Turner and Councillor Brennan Fitzgerald, who brought the matter forward, encouraged Council to support the initiative.

The discussion began after Councillor Stephen Dafoe voiced his concerns about the Bylaw, saying he was fully in support of doing something for youth engagement. “Our door is always open to any resident whether they’re 5, 15 or 55,” he said, adding he felt a Youth Council Bylaw could draw a select few with specific interests. “Do we take away that ability for youth in our community to feel that they can just come to us, or do they have to come through this Youth Council because it is so formalized in a bylaw?”

Councillor Nicole Boutestein opposed the idea of a Bylaw but also said she was supportive of youth. “It’s not that I don’t believe youth should have a voice, but I also believe that seniors should have a voice and [middle aged] people should have a voice. But where do you stop?” she asked. Boutestein suggested Fitzgerald “host a coffee night” or similar event if the Bylaw was unsuccessful to attempt to engage youth.

Councilor Gord Putnam said he saw a Youth Council Bylaw as a “segregation of residents” and developing a bylaw with one demographic of residents in mind instead of the whole community.

Mayor Lisa Holmes felt programming was the answer to getting youth engaged in civic politics. She said he son Nathan would be less enthusiastic about researching and formulating policy than he would be about working with discussion groups or exercises in learning about civic engagement.

Councillor Brennan Fitzgerald, the Bylaws main supporter, said he felt Administration did an excellent job drafting the bylaw and that the document had his full support.

“There’s obviously not a whole lot of agreement on this issue, and I get that. I’m speaking from a youth perspective. I do think that as a younger person, I have an idea of what young people need to thrive in a municipal environment … and I think this [Bylaw] is a great way to do it,” he said.

Councillor Fitzgerald said youth councils are widely practiced and are great ways to engage youth. “They’re inclusive and safe spaces for learning and for young people to have a little bit of an impact on local leadership,” he said, adding his intent was to provide a place for youth to get involved in civic life. “I think that the Town as a corporate body has lacked input from youth for a very long time. Quite frankly, youth don’t have the access [to talk directly to local councillors]. It’s intimidating for one thing to approach local leadership. They’re not really sure of the processes that are in place, so a Youth Council does give youth an environment to exercise those skills.”

Deputy Mayor Turner also disagreed with the majority of Council, saying Council should not let the Bylaw opportunity slip as Youth Council is specifically about youth having a “governance impact” on policy and less about youth programming.

“I don’t think that this needs to proceed to the exclusion of other groups,” he said. “I think that there is value in stewarding this group. I look forward to any opportunity to broaden our opportunities for citizen engagement.”

At the end of the discussion, Fitzgerald said he did not want the Bylaw to come back for second reading in the near future because he is confident “it would just be defeated.” A defeated Bylaw cannot come back to Council for two years until there can be another vote on the topic. The Bylaw is not scheduled for any upcoming Council meetings as a discussion item. The item may be brought forward in the future if Mayor and / or Council deem it should be discussed.

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