Gordon advocates for an Iqaluit “youth councillor”
Official response ranges from enthusiasm to non-committal
A message to youth: Iqaluit council wants you to take a seat at the table.
Or at least, one influential councillor does.
Annie Gordon, the city’s deputy mayor, says the idea is long overdue. In a recent interview, she promised that in the new year she would torque up her campaign to create a position for the city’s first youth councillor.
So far, she has floated the idea with administration and council — and has drawn responses ranging from enthusiastic to non-committal. She then planned to bring it up again during budget talks.
And while the budget passed without mention of a youth councillor, Gordon is still optimistic that she’ll see a young face on council in the near future.
“We have to have more of a link [with youth],” she said in an interview after budget talks. “I don’t know how much of a link we have right now.
“We don’t really have anyone from the youth.”
Many councillors, including Gordon, began putting their political weight behind youth issues during the municipal election campaign in October. While none mentioned lobbying for a youth councillor, Gordon told voters she would work at making city hall more accessible to youth. The city’s new mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik, was equally vocal in focusing on youth issues over the next three years.
The idea to create a youth position on council surfaced after Gordon received a call from long-time Iqaluit resident, Eliza Kingdon. The mother of three said she came up with the idea after years of listening to the kitchen-table debates of her children and their friends. Moreover, she heard that Inuvik had a youth councillor, and wondered why Iqaluit didn’t.
“They have so much wisdom, so much intelligence,” Kingdon said of Iqaluit youth. “They’re a bountiful resource … we’re just not tapping into.”
Kingdon also pointed to statistics to back up why the city needs a youth councillor. According to the 2001 Census, roughly half of Iqaluit’s population is under 28 years old. That’s almost 10 years younger than their national counterparts. With three elders on council, city hall currently tilts to the other side of the age divide.
Kingdon said that’s reason enough to demand council ensure it represent its younger voters.
“Rather than being dictated to by adults, they would bring a fresh perspective to council,” she said. “Politicians over the years have been giving really good lip service [to youth].
“I think it’s time for action, specific concrete action.”
Besides Inuvik, at least one Nunavut community has also expanded its council to include youth. Pangnirtung started a youth council through the Qikiqtani Inuit Association more than three years ago, and shortly after, those youth began electing their own representative to hamlet council.
Beyond council, Iqaluit youth also have backers among city staff. At a recent council meeting, chief administrative officer Ian Fremantle crowed about the outcome of having a youth councillor in his former workplace of Fort McMurray, Alberta. After serving as a youth councillor, the young man became one of the youngest mayors in the country, and then an MLA.
Despite having influential friends at city hall, Iqaluit’s political youth will have to wait for details. Council has not approved the idea, and has yet to discuss logistics such as age limitations, voting rights, and the election process. Plus, there will be the question of whether money can be found to pay an honorarium at a time that city funds are slim. Councillors currently receive $6,000 per annum from the city.
But even in the early stages, local youth find the idea encouraging.
“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” said Brendan Doherty, co-president of the Inuksuk High School student council. “It’s about time they got youth involved.
“Younger and older people think differently. Youth know what their [own] problems are.”