Premier John Horgan has named Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson as his special advisor on youth.
Her job is to engage with young people to learn about their values and perspectives, and to recommend programs and services for them.
Special attention to youth is even more important during a pandemic because teenagers and people in their early twenties may be missing out on some very important formative years, Anderson told the Nelson Star.
“You’re trying to find your way, your educational opportunities, your friendships, your social connections – it’s such a challenge for them right now. I’m really happy that we’re going have a refocusing on youth because they’re in a really unique situation.”
Anderson, 34, is the youngest member of the legislature. She was a member of Nelson City Council before being elected to the provincial government in October.
Although the job is official in the sense that the premier has given her a mandate letter, there is no extra pay. Premier Horgan has only two other special advisors, one on the economy and the other as liaison for the State of Washington.
“(My role is) to engage with youth from across British Columbia,” Anderson said, “ensuring that I’m including Indigenous youth and racialized youth, and youth from rural and remote communities, working with them and learning from them about the issues that are facing them.”
She said the definition of “youth” is flexible and depends on the circumstances, but generally it means people in their teens and twenties.
Asked if the appointment might be the government’s response to criticism of Premier John Horgan’s remarks last month in which he appeared to blame millennials for increased COVID-19 transmission, Anderson said those statements were made after she was approached about the appointment.
Anderson is impressed by the all-encompassing nature of the role.
“It touches every single ministry, it’s a part of absolutely everything, it’s a huge portion of the province. And so really trying to make sure I stay focused – that’s going to be one of the things I need to be really mindful of.”
As for her specific plans for the new role, she says it’s too early to say. Her work will be hampered by pandemic limitations on travel so she will have to come up with a virtual strategy. She is thinking of eventually setting up a youth council to advise her.
The cost of higher education and housing are especially important issues for young people, Anderson said, pointing out that the age range of people living with roommates is skewing older.
“I know a lot of people that are my age and older who are living with roommates. It’s very common.”
This speaks not only to affordability but also to transmission in an pandemic, she said.
“The more people you live with, the more risk you have, especially if people are frontline workers. So I think it’s super complicated for us right now.”
Anderson said young people tend to be more concerned about climate change and about social equity in terms or gender and race.
“I think it’s just an evolution of society. People older than my generation were obviously concerned about race and racism, and that fight continues. I would put younger people more in the category of being concerned about things like casual racism that maybe older folks tend to not be as aware of.”
She points to the international youth group Fridays for Future as an example of youth commitment to solving climate change, stating that she shares their passion.
Anderson says that as a young MLA she does not feel alone in the legislature. The next-oldest MLA is 35, and there are seven millennials.
One of those is Katrina Chen, MLA for Burnaby-Loughheed and the Minister of State for Child Care.
Anderson was matched up with Chen as part of a mentoring program for new MLAs. She says she speaks with Chen frequently and feels very supported by her.
“It all feels really good. I definitely feel like there is a strong, younger voice around the table.”