Hipsters, millennials & the precariously-employed welcome at City Hall!

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Participation Wednesday, July 23, 2014 View Count = 5837

Hipsters, millennials & the precariously-employed welcome at City Hall!

Thank you to the Jack Layton Fellows for today's guest post! The FCM Board of Directors launched the fellowship to celebrate Jack Layton’s legacy of engaging young Canadians in politics – read more about the program here. Today's guest blogger Claire Boychuk is one of the six 2014 Jack Layton Fellows. Read more about this year’s fellows here

If there is one thing that holds a place in the imagination of hipsters, millennials, the precariously-employed – or whatever you’d like to call us – it might be urban life (for definition of "hipster" please see picture on right). From the locations of coffee shops and patios, permits for culture and music festivals, subways and bike lanes, affordable housing, green bins and utility bills – nearly every municipal decision impacts our daily life. These are the issues that influence our waking hours and are shaped in City Halls across the country.

If there is a rallying cry for this generation, it might sound like 19-year-old Toronto mayoral candidate, Morgan Baskin’s call for digital, globally-minded, sustainable cities. Baskin recently launched a campaign centered on these three words: digital, global and green.  She may be onto something, as local governments across the country are the most able to champion this vision.

For this generation’s political sensibilities (and the changing attitudes of many Canadians towards political institutions), engaging and participating in municipal politics seems an obvious fit. Local government is not controlled by central political party messaging, it is not defined nor directed by partisanship, and it is without a doubt the most accessible level of government. And yet, despite what seems like a match written in the stars, young Canadians and local government are still far too often strangers. Aside from the odd young candidate or elected officials, the younger crowd hasn’t found a home in municipal administration or elected office – particularly outside of big cities. And despite growing enthusiasm for the “think global, act local” ethos, we aren’t seeing an upswing in voter turnout in municipal elections, or a wave of municipal job applications by youth.

Municipal leaders are trying to change that. In fact, local governments in every region of the country are experimenting with ways to engage younger voices in their work. For example, Ontario launched a Local Government Week to raise awareness about the role of local government. Edmonton passed a by-law creating a Youth Council, which acts as an advisory body that provides strategic advice to City Council from the perspective of Edmonton’s youth. Vancouver has created a suite of web tools for youth that make accessing municipal information easier and more inviting.

There are plenty of reasons why the passion and enthusiasm of youth for municipal issues has not immediately resulted in youth engagement with local government. Lack of knowledge, barriers to participation, and a highly mobile population, are a few of the obstacles that will need to be overcome by local governments to increase youth participation. But if any level of government in Canada is the most promising site to rally and harness the aspirations of this generation, there’s a strong case to be made that it’s City Hall.

Mayors and city councillors across the country are trying to communicate this message – that’s why the national organization that represents Canadian local governments (the Federation of Canadian Municipalities) created the Jack Layton Fellowship to spearhead initiatives on youth engagement and recruitment. In other words, in small towns and big cities across the country the doors to City Hall are open – the problem is they’re not sure how to get youth to walk through.

While there is a lot of popular concern about youth and their blasé attitude toward traditional political institutions, municipal politics could very well prove to be an exception to this trend. Over the next few months, the Jack Layton Fellows will be putting together resources to help Canadian municipalities communicate this message. If you’re engaged in municipal government and have ideas about increasing participation, we want to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to contact us at FCM.ca

From left to right, the Jack Layton Fellows: Claire Boychuk, Tasha Ratnasingam, James Bridges, Rebecca Klaassen, Stephanie Sokolowski and Michael Dubois. 

Interesting in working in municipal government? Take a look at this How'd You Get That Job interview that the lovely Jack Layton fellows helped us conduct with Toronto City Councilor Mike Layton.

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