Young people wanted: Vancouver Island community associations lack youth voices

John Schmuck, chair of the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee for the District of Saanich, says not enough young people are involved in their communities.

Citizen Advisory Committee Chair John Schmuck says Saanich, B.C., neighbourhoods not properly represented

Each of the 18 neighbourhoods in Saanich, B.C., has a community association that represents it to the municipal council. (Nikki/Flickr)

There aren't enough young people involved in Greater Victoria's community associations for the groups to accurately reflect the neighbourhoods they represent, according to John Schmuck, chair of the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee for the District of Saanich.

For each one of Saanich's 18 official neighbourhoods, there is a community association made up of residents from that neighbourhood.

According to the District of Saanich, the groups provide valuable input to council and staff on issues such as land use and planning.

But Schmuck, who is a senior and the former chair of the Saanich Community Association Network, says the associations' ability to provide that valuable input is compromised because there are fewer young people involved than in the past.

"The number of seniors is increasing, while the number of young people is going down," Schmuck said during an interview on CBC's On the Island.

Schmuck said the most recent census showed 22 per cent of people in Saanich are seniors, and only 19 per cent of people are 19 or younger.

"It's nice that we have lots of seniors living here, but they are really the ones skewing the involvement in community associations," said Schmuck.

Schmuck said the lack of young people in local associations leads to a significant portion of the population not being represented and ultimately stands in the way of creating cohesive communities — a problem he said will only grow as the population continues to age.

He said younger people are more involved in their children's soccer team or dance studios and rarely take an interest in community issues, unless it's something with a tangible impact on their neighbourhood.

Schmuck recalled a time four years ago when his association was considering the instalment of clay tennis courts in a park. That was one of the few times when he saw a huge interest from the younger generations, with people actively taking part in association meetings. 

John Schmuck, the chair of the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee for the District of Saanich says not enough young people are getting involved in their communities. 7:28

"You need a significant issue to drive public participation," said Schmuck. "Once that issue subsides ... people go back to their gymnastic classes ... and you're left with the seniors who are particularly focused."

Schmuck recommended formalizing the community associations' role in Saanich's municipal framework and giving the associations more weight in their ability to inform decision makers, something he thinks will promote more community engagement.

With files from On the Island