by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
Young people from Morinville are being asked to join a new Youth Council in town…sort of.
Appearing in the Morinville Fall Community Guide, released in mid-August, a Morinville Youth Council program is noted, calling for kids ranging in grades nine to 12. The group is being formed, it says, to “give youth of our community a voice” and it goes on to suggest that those who are leaders and who are interested in making a difference should consider joining; “we are looking for you to be on our council,” it states.
The idea of forming a Youth Council in town is not a new thing. Last June (2015), Deputy Mayor Brennan FitzGerald brought forward a motion requesting the Town’s Administration draft a bylaw establishing a Youth Council. That motion received unanimous approval from councillors at the time.
Youth and politics and civic engagement is sort of FitzGerald’s thing. At 22-years-of-age, he is currently the youngest serving municipal politician in Alberta and Morinville’s youngest-ever councillor and Deputy Mayor. When he brought the youth council idea forward, it was apparent to everyone—this was his pet project.
But, after that successful first reading, things got a bit shaky.
The Youth Council Bylaw was drafted and brought back to a Committee of the Whole meeting a few months later (September 2015). FitzGerald praised the administration for developing a good bylaw, but others on Council weren’t so sure about the idea anymore.
Councillors like Stephen Dafoe and Nicole Boutestein pushed back, saying they weren’t convinced establishing a Youth Council via bylaw was such a good idea. The bylaw would give the group a stronger legal standing to exist, versus establishing it as a program (remember, a program can easily be cancelled at any time).
Boutestein went so far as to suggest FitzGerald should just host a “coffee night” with youth instead.
After that rocky committee meeting, the idea of a Youth Council was never brought up during any public Council meeting again. At the time FitzGerald said he didn’t want the motion to come back anytime soon because he feared it would be defeated. Instead, the idea was left on hold until someone on Council decided to bring it up again.
If a motion is defeated, it can’t be reintroduced for two years. If a motion is left on the table untouched, it can stay there for up to two years before it becomes void.
Now, fast forward to Fall 2016 and the Town’s Community Guide is released with a Youth Council program listed inside.
When contacted about the program for this article, the Town got…weird. The Administration was approached for an interview but responded by being curiously tight-lipped, giving excuses like oh, so-and-so is on vacation and I’ll need to speak with my director first.
The Fall Program Guide, which by now has been out for weeks, indicates anyone interested in the Morinville Youth Council can contact the Town for more information on the program and an application.
When asked for those things—on three separate occasions—the Town never delivered. A response was offered on the third try, saying, “the application and information is not yet available. The presentation [on the Youth Council] is not scheduled to go to Council until Sept. 20, so it will become available after that time, pending no changes.”
So, let’s summarize.
A bylaw was drafted to establish a Youth Council. The only official motion related to the matter was passed unanimously by Council and the motion is still on the table–meaning, it’s still a matter resting with Council. The major divisive issue regarding the idea of a Youth Council was whether the group should be formed via bylaw or as programming, and there was no consensus.
So, how did it come to be that a Youth Council is now being offered as a program? And why is it coming to Council after the fact?
It appears that councillors learned of the Youth Council at the same time as everyone else, when they cracked open the Community Guide and saw it there on page 11.
“I was not aware,” said FitzGerald in an interview, when asked if he knew the Administration created a Youth Council program. He wasn’t the only councillor to admit this either; Dafoe said the same thing. Coun. Gord Putnam politely declined to provide an answer, saying the matter would be discussed at a future council meeting.
Boutestein and Councillors Barry Turner and Rob Ladouceur didn’t bother to respond at all.
Most puzzling, however, was the response from Mayor Lisa Holmes, who provided a statement to the Morinville News on Sept. 7.
“The direction that Council gave after a lot of discussion was to have administration create a youth program with a leadership component. I had expected that program to be put together sometime in 2016 and was happy to see it advertised to begin this Fall,” she said.
When Holmes was asked to elaborate on exactly when Council gave the Administration the direction to go ahead and do that, the only response received was the sound of crickets chirping.
The next day, however, the Town officially spoke up with a statement of its own.
“We are currently getting clarification on the committee. Our understanding is that it is a youth committee and not a council as per the resolution of Deputy Mayor FitzGerald last winter. More information will be available in the coming weeks,” said a statement coming out of the Communications Department.
So, at this point, the Youth Council is not a council anymore…it’s a committee. But don’t get that confused with the Youth Club and Youth Centre, which are also being offered in the Community Guide. This is a committee, you see. A committee on youth councils?
According to Dafoe, though, maybe the name doesn’t really matter, “it’s also not uncommon for a variety of types of youth groups to be referred to as Youth Council,” he said.
“Without knowing what Community Services is offering, I cannot say how closely it resembles what Councillor FitzGerald had in mind,” noted Dafoe. “Having said that, I don’t know that he has ever properly articulated what he envisioned beyond seemingly replicating the active group the City of Edmonton has.”
“The entire thing stopped at Committee of the Whole exactly one year ago. In my opinion, it is up to Councillor FitzGerald to ask the Mayor and CAO to add the item back to the agenda for second reading as it is with any of us on Council who bring initiatives forward,” explained Dafoe. “Perhaps the lack of forward momentum on the item is why Community Services went ahead with their own, but that would purely be speculation on my part.”
As for FitzGerald, however, he doesn’t seem fazed. “Youth engagement is never wrong,” he said.
“A youth council is a fantastic tool to get young people engaged in their community in a meaningful way. It provides an environment that often fosters the “leaders of tomorrow”. Further, beyond the benefits of a youth council to youth themselves from a personal development perspective, it also benefits our community. Having a bridge between [Morinville] and the youth of our community can lead to some very positive outcomes for our town.”
“It’s a bridge that isn’t quite built yet, but this is another great step forward.”
FitzGerald added, though he did bring the idea of a Youth Committee forward as a bylaw, he can see both the pros and cons of establishing it in that manner; “our departments and staff have the authority to pursue programming as they see fit. Council typically isn’t kept up to speed on every initiative within the organization, but we do receive updates as needed.”
According to Holmes, a Youth Council, whether it be formed through bylaw or as programming, would be operated by the Community Services staff, regardless.
So, at the end of the day, is this big run-around a big deal?
In this situation, the administration took it upon themselves to make a decision on a matter that was still in Council’s sphere, the Town (including its elected officials) is sending out different conflicting messages, and information is not being freely shared. It doesn’t sit well.
Today this bungle was on the process for getting a Youth Council established. Yesterday it was finding land for a new school. Maybe tomorrow it will be a multi-million dollar rec centre. Will it be a big deal then?