by Derek Sidenius
Jessica McElroy takes being premier of the British Columbia Youth Parliament in stride. It’s all just part of a family tradition for the North Delta native.
Three decades earlier, father Chris McElroy was involved in the Youth Parliament organization in Victoria, while her mother Lynn Embury participated while living in Mississauga, Ont. (The two met at a national Youth Parliament in 1980.)
Jessica’s older brother Jeremy, two years her senior, has also been involved. For a couple of years, the siblings were in the same parliament, even the same cabinet – he as Attorney-General and 20-year-old Jessica serving as Minister of Public Relations.
Her father held various cabinet positions and both parents, as alumni, served as Speaker of the House.
But only Jessica ever attained the top spot of premier.
She was one of 95 participants in the BC Youth Parliament that took over the legislative chambers in Victoria the week after Christmas, occupying the seats of vacationing members of the Legislative Assembly.
Amidst the marble columns and ornate plasterwork, they debated and passed resolutions geared to help youth develop leadership skills and offer services to communities throughout the province.
This year marked the 83rd-annual session of the parliament, a record that dates back to 1924 and one broken only by the years of The Second World War.
Originally it was an outreach program run by the YMCA and reserved just for boys, but in 1977, that all changed.
Today, more than two-thirds of the participants are female.
Ray Parks, CEO of the Provincial Capital Commission, which financially supports youth parliaments, says the program fosters pride in the province and encourages civic engagement and community involvement.
“It’s also a great opportunity for them to connect with, learn about and celebrate the provincial capital,” he says.
The BC Youth Parliament meets only once a year, although the six regional parliaments meet more often. At the plenary session, participants elect a premier, a leader of opposition and a deputy speaker, who hold their offices for 12 months beginning each September to coincide with the school year.
The premier appoints a cabinet.
Jessica appointed 13 parliamentarians to handle an array of responsibilities that parallel the provincial ministries, at least in name.
She’s been able to do this as well as keep a part-time job as a cook in a local crêpe café.
Jessica says that besides the volunteerg and service work young parliamentarians pledg to fulfill, the opportunity to come to Victoria and see the city in a way few others get to is a huge plus.
“It makes me realize just how beautiful our capital is,” she says. “It makes me want to get more involved.”