These are truly historic times for politics, and one of the groups helping to produce the future generation of leaders is marking its own bit of history.
As members of the British Columbia Youth Parliament (BCYP) take part in their 89th session in the halls of the Legislative Assembly, they will be doing so against the backdrop of B.C.’s first minority government in 65 years, and the first government ever shaped by the B.C. Greens.
It is also the age where almost every day the public learns about more cases of sexual misconduct by powerful individuals shaping political discourse, be they politicians themselves, influential journalists, or movie moguls with a distinct political agenda.
Sky Losier alludes to this backdrop as he discusses BCYP’s history, whose roots date back to 1924, when it started as the Older Boys Parliament.
That name points to its less-than-inclusive orientation and past that did not change until 1974, when it allowed women to participate – 60 years after British Columbia expanded the franchise for some but not all women, as B.C. denied various minority groups full political rights until the late 1940s.
In short, an organization that contributed to the political education of B.C. youth for decades systemically excluded women for decades after women themselves had actively participated in real-life provincial electoral politics. In fact, by 1974, women had routinely won seats and served in cabinet.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said Losier, a Saanich resident who will be playing the role of premier.
So what caused the change? The government of then-premier David Barrett – B.C.’s first New Democratic premier – had made it clear that the province would not allow the organization continued use of the Legislative Assembly unless it became open to all, said Losier.
This intervention gives this year’s session of the Youth Parliament a special significance, because it means that the number of sessions with female participation (45) will have surpassed the number of sessions without (44).
“It is important to tell the women of the Youth Parliament that they are a valuable part of the organization, and that we couldn’t do the work we do without them,” he said.
Unlike other model parliaments and debate societies, the BCYP has a social-service focus under the motto of ‘Youth Serving Youth’ as its 97 members debate and decide legislation that describes various projects that the non-profit, non-partisan organization supports over the year.
The largest of these is Camp Phoenix, a four-day sleep-away camp for children aged eight to 12, held in different locations.
Astra Lund-Phillips, a Saanich resident who serves as minister of public relations, said this work has made her appreciate the many things others do not take for granted. It also shows the public that her generation is not as apathetic as it might appear, she said.
“They are active, not just bystanders,” she said.
As part of their service, youth parliamentarians must fundraise at least $150 each, and fundraising contributes up to $18,000 towards the budget of the group.
As one might expect, its membership has a high level of political knowledge and engagement, with many studying politics in school and a record of working on various real-life political campaigns.
Losier, however, stresses the non-partisan nature of the organization, and what actually appeals to him is the diverse range of opinions that exist among the parliamentarians. Save for the designated cabinet and shadow cabinet usually comprised of returning parliamentarians, all youth parliamentarians sit as independents.
It is rewarding to meet people who challenge your ideas, said Losier. Lund-Phillips, meanwhile, appreciates the real-life lessons in parliamentary procedures and democratic techniques, something missing from more formal academic settings.
Organizations in their home ridings nominate would-be parliamentarians, who must also submit a personal statement that describes their reasons for participating, their community engagements and potential contributions to BCYP.
BCYP’s list of alumni is a long and impressive one. It includes judges, journalists and not surprisingly, politicians, including Linda Reid, who had sat in the legislature for 26 years between 1991 and 2017, holding various government posts.
Reid, who did not run in the last election, also served as speaker between 2013 and 2017, the third woman in the history of B.C. to do so.