“The future of Lacombe is in good hands.”
Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie shared these thoughts several times during the afternoon of May 2, where 11 Grade 6 students, six girls and five boys, participated in the annual Mayor for a Day event.
Christie said the program is an effort, and so far a successful one, to get people educated and interested in politics at a younger age.
“We are asked every election ‘How do we get young people more involved?’ And I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Christie. He added that, if students begin taking an interest in politics while in grade school, they will be even better informed than most once they can vote or even run for a position in any kind of government.
“I didn’t take an interest in politics until I was in my mid-twenties,” said Christie. “Imagine how far ahead they will be.”
Rod Fox, MLA for Lacombe – Ponoka, who attended the first portion of the Mayor for a Day activities, agreed with Christie.
He said that the event connects students to what government really does and allows them to experience it first-hand rather than receiving the information from a textbook.
He added that, while he represents Lacombe at a provincial level rather than a municipal one, all levels of government are connected and it is important for students to know that.
“It’s good for them to see that council does need to work with the MLA and that the MLA does need to work with council,” said Fox.
Students participating in the program had lunch with the mayor and CAO Norma MacQuarrie. The also learned the roles and responsibilities of mayor, council and City administration.
They also learned about the Municipal Government Act, toured City Hall and public works and held a mock council meeting. Participants in the event also had the pleasure of being addressed as ‘Mayor’ by Christie and MacQuarrie for the duration of the afternoon.
During the mock council meetings, the young mayors dealt with three issues that were taken from essays the students had written as part of the Mayor for a Day program.
The three issues dealt with strategies to educate and engage the public about the Solid Waste Roadmap, developing a strategy to encourage more businesses to come to Lacombe, and the development of a new Recreational Master Plan.
Students discussed and voted on the issues just like in a real council meeting and showed a true interest in the implications of the recommendations made to them.
“This is the best council meeting we have all year,” said Christie. “These kids want to be engaged, they want to give their ideas.”
Students even provided some valuable insight for the mayor and City administration. When discussing strategies to inform the public about the Solid Waste Roadmap (which were the same strategies presented to Lacombe’s actual council on April 22), students suggested using links from their schools’ web sites to the City web site as well as Facebook to engage parents and students.
Christie added that the City has acted on the suggestions it has received from Mayor for a Day students in the past as well.
“We think that mentors should be older,” said Christie. “That we should follow those who are older and wiser than us. But sometimes I think we should look the other way. I have grandkids that I learn stuff from almost weekly.”
Mayor for a Day is an initiative that Christie started in 2011.
He said he got the idea from and modeled the program after MLA for a Day, a program where students learn about the provincial government.
Knowing that Grade 6 students in Lacombe learn about municipal government as part of their social studies curriculum, Christie decided to implement a similar program where students could learn about (and to some extent, even participate in) municipal government in a more hands-on way.
In the Mayor for a Day program, students ‘apply’ for the position by writing an essay about why they want to be Mayor for a Day and why they would make good candidates. The students’ teachers then select the three best essays from each class and forward them on to the mayor, who then selects one candidate from each of the Grade 6 classes in Lacombe to be Mayor for a Day.
Schools have been very receptive to the program, said Christie. He added that some of the schools have gone as far as to use the Mayor for a Day application essay as an in-class assignment.
“I have to say thank you to the schools,” said Christie. “The schools have stepped up and done a super job and accepted the program.”