Ambrose Yung is not your average 20-year-old. He loves watching Parliament’s question period on TV. Instead of staying up all night partying like some of his peers, he prefers a night of debating whether Barack Obama should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize or how to reduce tanker traffic off the B.C. coast.
Given his passion for current affairs, the Simon Fraser University political science student seems perfectly suited for his role as premier of the upcoming session of the British Columbia Youth Parliament — a non-partisan and non-profit organization for youth between the ages of 16 and 21 that gathers every year at the Legislature in Victoria just after Christmas to debate local, national and international importance.
“We learn so much about each other. We are all interested in politics,” said Yung. “It is great to sit with a bunch of like-minded people.”
The group’s registrar, Dora Turje, said being involved in the organization allows for debate that translates into action. There are no party affiliations and members are free to vote their conscience. Some of the past issues the youth have debated include graduated licensing for teen drivers and lowering the voting age to 16. The results of votes are passed on to local politicians for consideration.
Yung said while the topics are serious, it is also a lot of fun. “It is so exhilarating for me,” he said, adding he has made lifelong friends over his last three years with the group.
During the week they also form regional youth parliaments to debate and decide on activities they would like to carry out throughout the year. “It is a totally unique way to combine learning how the parliamentary process works with community service,” said Turje.
For Yung, being involved in putting on Camp Phoenix has been one of the best outreach activities he has been involved with. Phoenix, paid for by money raised by the members of the youth parliament, is a weeklong summer camp aimed at kids aged 8 to 12 who might not otherwise get to go to camp because of financial or social pressures in their lives.
“Seeing these kids having fun, singing camp songs and doing camp activities is really fulfilling,” said Yung.
The organization started in 1924 as the Older Boys Parliament, but Turje said the gender bias is long gone and the 2012 session was made up of 75 per cent young women.
For at least one high profile female former member, involvement in the group has led to a life in official politics. Linda Reid, MLA for Richmond-East since 1991 and speaker in the B.C. Legislature, was one of the organization’s first female premiers.
British Columbia Youth Parliament is funded through community donations, grants and registration fees. Youth interested in politics are encouraged to apply for the upcoming session by Oct. 23. For more information go to bcyp.org.
Note: This story has been corrected since it was first posted Oct. 11.
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