Jenelle Yonkman and Emily Gage are just two of 92 teen leaders who gathered in Victoria over the Christmas break to take part in B.C. Youth Parliament.
The parliament took over the B.C. legislature between Christmas and the new year, sitting in chambers, presenting bills and creating change on a theoretical level.
Yonkman is originally from Castlegar and joined BCYP four years ago when she was in Grade 12. Now a University of Victoria student, she is BCYP minister of finance, after spending time as a backbencher and in the shadow cabinet.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said the enthusiastic 20-year-old.
“I was always really into debate, that’s how I got involved.”
A friend introduced Yonkman to BCYP and she was hooked by the planning and service aspects. “That summer there was a major service project in Vancouver and I got really involved, I guess that’s what made it stick for me,” she said.
Gage, who is from Central Saanich, has been involved with the program for six years.
“I started when I was 15, my Grade 11 social studies teacher sent me the application and persuaded me to join,” the 21-year-old Stelly’s secondary school grad said.
Youth parliament is in its 83rd year and open to young people between the ages of 16 and 21 from across the province.
It’s a non-partisan organization that creates projects to help improve the lives of young people. It also organizes regional youth parliaments, which are designed for 14-18 year olds that are run in different regions of B.C. in order to allow more youth to experience education in parliamentary procedures.
“We make our own legislation for our service projects, we vote on the plans so we can carry them out in the future,” said Gage.
This year the group debated private member’s resolutions on real-world problems.
“We had one (resolution) in opposition to Occupy and one in support of giving all RCMP officers (stun guns). We can’t actually institute change, but we can send letters to heads of government,” Gage said.
Each year the BCYP plans a major project and this year the youth are planning the Western Canada Youth Parliament.
WCYP is held every two years for the members of youth parliaments from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. B.C. will host this year’s parliament.
Richmond East MLA Linda Reid officially opened the B.C Youth Parliament as lieutenant-governor this year and is an alumni as well.
“I joined on the cusp of it becoming BCYP,” said Reid. Previously it was the Older Boys Parliament, only open to males.
“They were resistant to my girlfriend and I joining up,” said Reid, an MLA since 1991. Her friend, Susan Hunter, became the first female premier of youth parliament and Reid the second.
“It’s an organization with tremendous heart,” said Reid. “It’s something I want my kids to experience. The way I put it to my kids is: service is the rent you pay to be on this earth. To give to others and to help others.”