Jack Baker realized he wanted to go into politics after he volunteered on the Nova Scotia election campaign trail this summer with Lisa Lachance, the NDP candidate for the riding of Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.
A Grade 12 student at Citadel High School, Baker plans to study political science in university. But for now, he wants to help other young people get involved and make their voices heard in the community.
After winning the seat in the August vote, Lachance decided to create a youth advisory council, and Baker stepped up to take on the role of chair of the board.
"I believe that youth, it's important for them to have a voice in our political system," Baker said. "I want to give them the opportunity to speak directly to an MLA and help them be part of this process."
Baker is the first member, and the council is still accepting applications from anyone aged 15-24 who lives in the Halifax Citadel-Sable Island riding, or who has connections to the area.
The goal of the council when formed will be to help inform and guide Lachance's decisions that impact young people, bring unheard voices to Province House and help identify and remove barriers facing youth.
Baker said he has already learned a lot from Lachance.
"I think from the beginning, even canvassing door to door … making sure that everyone feels listened to and important and that things can be solved eventually," he said.
The council will have a core group of members with defined roles, but will be open for anyone to drop in to monthly meetings if the group is taking on a specific issue of interest.
"This will always be an open-door process," Lachance said. "Some people might want to connect just on poverty or just on climate change, and we want to be able to do that."
Lachance said the council is a place for people who are interested in understanding politics, people who are activists in the community, or people who just want a chance to connect with others in their community.
Seeking diversity of opinion
Lachance has spent years working in youth mental health and youth engagement, and believes listening to these voices will make them a better MLA.
"In the work I've done with young people, they always have something so valuable to say … and a different way of looking at things," Lachance said. "So I really want to have that diversity of opinion."
Baker said he has been promoting the opportunity to join the council to his peers at school and in different groups he's a member of, but not everyone is as engaged in the political sphere as he is.
"I think youth sometimes don't reach out. I think sometimes they don't see that they can make change and can be heard," he said.
Lachance sees why young people may be cynical about politics.
"In a lot of cases, young people don't have a seat at the table," they said. "I mean, this constituency has … tens of thousands of young people, and the community needs to work for them and they need to have a space to identify their priorities."
The council will be youth-led and will be able to choose its own areas of concern. Lachance plans to go to the council for advice on issues, and be open about the political process.
"They'll definitely be forming the policy process and the policy thinking for sure. And potentially that will influence decision-making."
Baker said for him, the most important issues are the environment, mental health and housing, but he hopes to hear what other young people care about and make a collective decision about what the council will work toward.