Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: More young people needed in local politics

Vast majority of council and board members in the region are older people

We need more young people in local politics.

I’ve always respected how much time and effort local politicians in the Cowichan Valley put into their roles, considering how little compensation they get for the amount of work they do.

But the vast majority of council and board members in the region are older people, with many of them retired from their careers.

That means most of them have the time and finances to allow them to take on the job as our elected representatives.

That’s all good and fine and, after many decades of reporting on council and district meetings for various newspapers, I can say the vast majority of local politicians I’ve dealt with have taken their roles seriously and have been credits to the communities they represented.

But the great amount of time required to do the job, and the limited remuneration it provides, have always been a disincentive to most young people, many of whom have children and are just getting their financial lives in order.

Alison Nicholson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, was successful in her efforts to convince the majority of her fellow directors on the board to have staff prepare a report on the pros and cons of providing extra financial support for child care for electoral area directors so they don’t have to pay for child care themselves to attend meetings.

Currently, compensation for the electoral area directors is less than $35,000 a year, which is not a lot of pay for positions that are really full-time jobs for most of them.

“Child-care expenses are significant,” Nicholson said at a recent committee of the whole meeting.

“We have meetings that vary [in the times they are held] and it’s difficult for parents to arrange child care.”

I don’t know if the best approach to this issue is to give the electoral area directors funding to help pay for child care, or just give them a pay raise so they can cover the expense themselves, but I think something must be done to bring more young people’s perspectives to the table.

The City of Duncan has some diversity, with some council members in their twenties and thirties, and that’s reflected in the conversations at the table in the city.

City of Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said she finds it a huge loss at local government tables not to have the participation of young people due to the lack of child-care benefits.

“One thing I appreciate about my council is the diversity of age and gender,” she said.

“We have great discussions from a variety of perspectives, and I think we should try to alleviate some of these barriers.”

They do have some great conversations at that table, and younger members like Jenni Capps and Stacy Middlemiss do bring a wealth of knowledge from their generation’s point of view that I find sometimes lacking at the other board and council meetings that I cover.

I recall Terry Beech, who is currently the MP for Burnaby North-Seymour, when he was cutting his political chops as a city councillor in Nanaimo in the early 2000s when he was just 18 years old.

I interviewed him when he was running for that position and he told me that his prime motivation for entering local politics was that he felt the concerns of his generation were not being heard at the council table.

He hit the campaign trail with gusto and got Nanaimo’s youth involved and behind him, and he was easily elected.

Some in the community felt Beech was too young to fully understand the complexities of the role, but he proved them all wrong and did an admirable job as a council member before moving on into senior levels of government.

I think it’s time we work to remove the barriers that keep young people from considering running for office.

It would be good for everyone in the Cowichan Valley.

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