Andreas Kyriakos and Nasma Ahmed are not looking for a pat on the head from politicians – they want their voices heard. Though they’re only 15 and 16, both of these precocious high schoolers know that you’re never too young to start participating in the democratic process.
That’s why they’re volunteering for the brand new City Youth Council of Toronto, a volunteer organization that this fall will elect 44 city youth councillors to advocate for the 310,000 young people that call Toronto home.
“A lot of youth feel frustrated and disengaged,” says Kyriakos over lattes at Dark Horse Espresso Bar on Spadina. He’s a grade 10 student at Ursula Franklin Academy near High Park, and says that often politicians fail to take young people seriously. “Youth are rallied at election time, there will be lots of excitement, and then once the election is over – silence.” Ahmed, who is in grade 11 at Wolborn Collegiate Institute in East Scarborough, agrees: “We feel disregarded, and there are a lot of decisions being made that really affect us.” She references the recent TTC high drama, as well as the Drummond Report’s potential effect on public education in Ontario. “These policies will shape our future.”
The CYCTO aims to give Toronto’s youth a collective voice in municipal politics. Though there have been previous youth councils in Toronto, this one is unique in that it is completely independent from City Hall. “Students can be as outspoken as they want,” says Ahmed with a grin.
Elected youth council members will meet in the Toronto City Hall facilities, and will interact with City Hall to advocate for real change. Though elections aren’t until October, candidate registration launches on March 1, and any youth between the ages of 14 and 24 interested in running for the council are encouraged to visit Thecyc.ca. The team organizing the election is hoping to have at least two candidates competing in each of the city’s 44 wards, and is expecting a minimum of 8000 voters.
As the co-directors of communications and public affairs for the CYCTO, Kyriakos and Ahmed have already been inundated with emails from students interested in running. “I see the Arab Spring and youth fighting for democracy, and I hear people saying that young people here don’t care,” says Kyriakos, “but we do care, we just need the chance to be heard.”