Grade 11 students Katrina Weicker, Lilli Rakose, Ava Wutke, Chance McCoshen, Allie Landy, Adam Berls came to city council to explain why they’re interested in participating in a ‘shadow council.’ - Image credit: Martha Wickett

Students to get ongoing voice at council

Idea of ‘shadow council’ to come to Salmon Arm in fall

You’ve likely heard of the ‘shadow cabinet’ in the provincial legislature. Come this fall, Salmon Arm will have its own version – a ‘shadow council.’

Although city council has discussed giving young people more of a voice in city politics, the talk is morphing into action.

Teacher Graham Gomme and six Grade 11 students came to council Monday to outline how a new civics course at the school will bring a youth perspective to city hall in September or October.

Gomme explains that Coun. Tim Lavery, a former educator, approached him about more youth involvement. Then Lavery and the city’s chief administrative officer, Carl Bannister, came up with the idea of shadowing. Their idea, combined with the flexibility of the school district’s new curriculum, meant it was a go.

Gomme terms it “cutting edge.”

Once a month, two of five Grade 12 students will rotate in to sit beside staff at the city council meeting, providing comment “if they have done their homework” on the issue and wish to add input.

The hope is to have “students make some real suggestions to council, bringing their own ideas,” Gomme said.

While they will be permitted to comment, their votes on issues won’t count – not being legally elected.

While the two Grade 12s will be participating as shadow council members, the other three members of the youth council will be in the gallery watching, as will two Grade 11s who will watch the process in preparation for when they’re in Grade 12.

A sixth Grade 12 student will act as Gomme’s assistant.

Gomme said the students will have a responsibility both to the community and to the school, where they will report back.

At Monday’s meeting, all six students present briefly addressed council, most speaking of their wish to be more involved in and learn more about the community.

Gomme said more planning will take place and all the details of the course will be explained in the fall.

“They said I won’t be able to run my class like a dictatorship,” he told council with a smile.

Lavery expressed his excitement at the shadow council, noting more youth engagement has been a longstanding desire on the part of Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus and staff, as well as this and previous councils.

Following the meeting, Gomme praised Lavery and all of council for their commitment to youth involvement.

“To be honest, this council is quite interested. Every member. There’s been a lot of involvement, not just from the teachers and ex-teachers… There’s been more interaction in the last two years than I’ve ever seen with the council,” Gomme remarked.

Mayor Nancy Cooper and all of council expressed their enthusiasm for the shadow cabinet plan.

Coun. Chad Eliason noted that in his position with SILGA, the Southern Interior Local Government Association, he’s aware that there aren’t very many youth councils in B.C. Salmon Arm’s, he said, will be just the third.

“You guys can effect change at this table anytime. I want to thank Coun. Lavery for all his work. He has really been the catalyst to make this go forward.”

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond said she is looking forward to learning from the shadow council.

“I’m excited for all the learning you’ll be doing, and I’m also excited for all the things you’ll teach us. We all have a great deal to learn from young people.”

Coun. Alan Harrison commented in the same vein.

“I think our most important job is to make sure we listen to what you say, so make sure you speak up.”

Council suggested that one of the students apply for funding through SILGA to attend the Union of BC Municipalities Convention (UBCM) in September, as funding is provided for one Interior-based student chosen.