Millennial town councillors think green

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

When Jules Brunelle-Marineau was first elected to Dunham town council in 2018, at age 28, he was a one-person youth movement.

“At the time, we were all white men, and I was much younger than anyone else,” recalls Brunelle-Marineau, 31. “I always thought there was a lack of diversity of opinion. We were there to represent the whole population, and it’s hard to do that when not everyone was represented.”

After Brunelle-Marineau won reelection in 2021, he was joined on council by Florencia Saravia, 35. “I’ve always been involved in the community; it’s part of what I like to do. Over the past few years, there has been sort of a ‘green wave’ which made me think that maybe I had something to offer,” Saravia says. “I talked to some current councillors and asked them about how things worked…which is definitely something I would advise.”

In 2017, according to the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, the average age of all municipal elected officials in the province was 53.4, and people under 35 made up just over nine per cent of all town councillors. Statistics were not available for the 2021 elections as of this writing. Anecdotally, however, several town councils in the region are experiencing somewhat of a youth movement, and the mayors who preside over those councils, as one might say in millennial parlance, are here for it.

“Younger people bring new ideas,” says Dunham mayor Pierre Janecek. “We have a good mix, with two councillors that are younger, two councillors that are a bit older, and my generation, reflecting the makeup of the town. We get along fine, but it will be even better when we’ve been working together for a year.” He mentions the recent reusable diaper subsidy program proposed by Brunelle-Marineau as “something we never would have thought of” without millennials on council.

Daniel Tétreault, 58, is the mayor of Notre-Dame-de-Stanbridge and one of the initiators of the Bedford pole project. On the pole steering committee, which will include two councillors from each member municipality, he is hoping to have solid youth representation. “In our neck of the woods, there are a lot of elected officials who are 65 and older, but the vision of a younger person is not the same as someone who is 65. Young people are building things for the future, and it’s time for them to get involved in decision making – now, not when they’re 60.” He added that his own efforts to recruit younger candidates had met with limited success, because potential candidates had childcare concerns: “Several people said they would be interested in four years.”

Saravia, a mother of two, can relate: “My children are 11 and 14, so I don’t need to go give them a bath; I don’t think I could have done this when they were younger.” She adds that there’s “definitely a wider comprehension of family issues” when parents of young children, or potential parents, are on council.

Dominique Martel, 56, the mayor of Saint-Ignace-de-Stanbridge, calls new councillor Myriam Falcon, 27, “a breath of fresh air.” In general, she says young people “talk about their needs more, show up in solution mode and are very up on technology.”

Falcon, for her part, ran for council to “get involved in the community and see how things happen behind the scenes.” She credits town officials and her new colleagues for helping her navigate the arcana of budget line items and municipal tax rolls. Like Brunelle-Marineau and Saravia, Falcon, an agronomy advisor, says being able to do her day job remotely has made it easier to fit council duties into her schedule. She and a fellow councillor are currently setting up a joint environment committee to work on various climate change mitigation projects with residents.

The Dunham town council has decided to take youth involvement to another level, swearing in a youth council of elementary school students alongside the elected council. Saravia’s younger daughter is a member. “I’m not sure if I inspired her, but my experience kind of demystified council for her,” says the proud mom. “They [the youth councillors] have an on-the-ground perspective; we’ll talk about the ice rink and they’ll say, ‘There’s a piece of rubber carpet missing here.’ It helps us see the town through their eyes. Maybe one day my daughter and I will serve together.”

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