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Youth advisory committee take over Moose Jaw council

The mock council isn’t part of regular classes or the high school curriculum but takes the form of an extracurricular program giving select students an opportunity to learn more about government and their role as future voters.

MOOSE JAW — In an educational demonstration of civic engagement, eight members of the Youth Advisory Committee ran a simulated council meeting at city hall’s council chambers on the morning of June 6.

The project served to increase public awareness and understanding of the complexities of municipal government and sought to assist in the development of city policies from the perspective of Moose Jaw’s youth.

“This is my second year on the committee, but it’s the first year we’ve done a mock city council,” said Avery Surtees, a Grade 12 student at A.E. Peacock Collegiate and the council’s acting mayor.

Surtees had the opportunity to assume the role because of her position as chair of the advisory committee, and she chose Cornerstone’s Drew Biette – the committee’s vice-chair – for the role of deputy mayor.

The mock council isn’t part of regular classes or the high school curriculum but takes the form of an extracurricular program giving select students an opportunity to learn more about government and their role as future voters.

The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month to bring up questions, address current events, and “basically give a youth’s perspective on different issues in the city,” Surtees explained.

To participate, two students from each local high school were chosen by the respective school’s principal to attend the council meeting.

This year’s student council included Austin Kretsch, Avery Surtees, Abhishek Jain, Drew Biette, Emma LeClair, Emma Russell, Hannah Hipfner, Mateah Purdy, Micky Peebles, Momore Afolabi, and Neyva Abbasi.

The council is also comprised of one member of city council, two youth-at-large representatives between the ages of 18 – 25, one student representative from an accredited distance learning school who is also a Moose Jaw resident, and one representative of a home school student from Moose Jaw.

Coun. Crystal Froese served as the city council advisor to the committee, Lyle Johnson served as its facilitator, and Coun. Derek Blais represented the parks and recreation department.

The committee’s term of office runs for one academic year commencing Sept. 1, 2023.

The mock council meeting introduced students to concepts such as advisory reports, creating a notice of motions, voting on active motions, and engaging in debates. The meeting’s primary focus was a discussion on how to approach the Phyllis Dewar outdoor pool and whether to install a 25-meter or 50-meter pool basin upgrade.

Coun. Froese said the outcome of the student-led debate closely matched the outcome of city council earlier on May 9, 2022. “It’s very ironic,” she said. “(It was) pretty much a similar debate to (the council meeting) we had, from the financials to looking at the impact, which was great.”

Surtees said she enjoyed the opportunity to experience a city council meeting.

“I think it was really fun,” she said. “I’ve watched one city council meeting in the past… And just to (experience) how the entire thing runs – it was very informational.

“Especially now that I’m getting older, I can vote and be part of government… (so) it’s good to know what’s going on.”

The best part, Surtees said, was the privilege of swinging the gavel. “It’s funny, but hitting the gavel was just fun to me,” she said with a chuckle.

The Youth Advisory Committee isn’t done for the year, however – on Monday, June 10, the committee will attend a full-fledged city council meeting and Surtees along with Kretsch will deliver a follow-up presentation delivering a youth’s perspective on the topics of parks and recreation as well as mental health in the community.

Monday’s council meeting will begin at 4 p.m. in the city hall council chambers.