Welcome to British Columbia Youth Parliament!
Youth Parliaments in Canada have their origins in the "boys’ work" movement of the YMCA over one hundred years ago. “Boys’ work” answered the need for activities for young men who worked by day but were idle by night.
Taylor Statten, a Boer war recruit who joined the YMCA as a means of continuing his physical fitness activities upon military discharge, was driven by his ambition to design a proper boys’ work programmes with the Toronto YMCA, attending various national boys conferences. In 1912 Statten became the Boys’ Work Secretary on the national YMCA executive. Borrowing from both Canadian and American Y programmes, and aspects of the Boy Scouts, Statten established the Canadian Standards Efficiency Training programme, a system of graded tests where boys passed from one level to the next. These standards were borrowed from the “four-fold” philosophy of physical, mental, spiritual and social well being. The YMCA adheres to this philosophy today, but BCYP's mission has been amended to promote the well-being and development of youth in all ways.
Under the CSET programme came the Trail Rangers (boys 12 - 14) and Tuxis (ages 15 - 17). A similar programme for girls known as the Canadian Girls in Training were formed a number of years later. The popularity of the CSET programme was such that boys’ work soon became a virtually separate movement within the YMCA.
In 1916 Statten made his great “Coast to Coast Tour” promoting the CSET programme, which included a stop in Vancouver. The seed was planted in BC. It was on this tour that Statten first envisioned a national boys conference, modelled on various regional conferences promoting boys’ work. Statten believed in letting the boys determine their own priorities, and his idea soon developed into the concept of a boys’ Parliament. However, the national Boys’ Work Board considered this beyond their capability, at least during the Great War, which was being waged. Fortunately, the Ontario BWB was interested, and Statten organized the first Ontario Tuxis & Older Boys’ Parliament in 1917.
Due to the programme’s success, Statten encouraged the involvement of the churches, in order to reach even more boys in Canada. Various Protestant churches became involved, and a National Boys’ Work board was established with an executive body made up of YMCA and church representatives. In 1921 an independent Boys’ Work Board was established, as the YMCA preferred to take a lesser role in a movement that was diverting too much attention and resources from other Y programmes.
The first BC Older Boys’ Parliament was held in January 1924. The Premier was Walter S. Owen, who later became the Lieutenant Governor of BC (1973 - 1978). Our mace was the donation of St. Andrews Presbyterian (now United), where Owen’s Tuxis group met.
Parliament’s purpose those early years was to recommend changes and additions to the CSET programme and to promote Christian boy life. Its legislation usually consisted of recommendations to the BWB of BC rather than its own programmes, and occasional resolutions on social issues (temperance, school curricula).
During the Depression, a number of issues faced the OBP. The financial situation is visible in YP’s own records, where the King’s Printers no longer provided professionally designed Journals. Racial and peace issues grew in importance. OBP’s presence in the legislature was threatened by those offended by Parliament allowing oriental members to attend, to the concerns of Harold Winch that the chambers only be used for taxpayer funded purposes.
Before the war, Parliament decided to experiment with holding Session outside of Victoria, but a 1937 session in New Westminster had to be cancelled. Another experiment was to hold Parliament biannually, with regional Parliaments in alternate years. It is certain this practice would have continued were it not for World War II.
While the 15th Session prorogued with full intention of holding a Session in 1940, OBP did not meet during World War II. By war’s end, the Tuxis movement had diminished and the National Boys’ Work Board was in a weak state of affairs. It took the Boys’ Work Secretary for the United Church, Rev. Robert McLaren, to revive the Older Boys’ Parliament. Through his efforts, the pre-war partners who sponsored Parliament (Protestant churches and YMCA) joined forces to establish a Parliamentary Convention in Vancouver to rebuild the organization. It is in this period where the United Church began to have its greatest influence on OBP.
Delegates from around BC attended this conference, which expanded to include representatives of other boys’ groups such as Scouts and the Boys Brigade. This expansion of OBP’s base encouraged the boys to debate including all religions and boys’ groups in the OBP and truly become a representative Parliament, but this was effectively quashed by McLaren and other church leaders.
The 1940’s were an unstable period for the OBP, with a Senate existing in name only and a weak Premier who had to be replaced soon after the 16th Session. Fortunately, key alumni and strong Premiers with good cabinets carried OBP through the late 1940’s when a proper Senate and well founded Parliament were established.
It was during this period that Parliament was held in Vancouver. Only one session between 1945 and 1955 sat in the legislature. Despite invitations from the government, organizers found it easier to plan sessions for the fledgling Parliament in Vancouver, usually at UBC in Union College (now V.S.T.) or the Law School Building.
During the 1950’s Parliament began to develop a more service oriented programme run by its own members rather than working with programmes run by other organizations (the exception to this being camps). Projects included annual Hobby Shows which were very successful in the early 1950’s, athletic competitions, leadership training programmes, and work with handicapped youth.
Parliament’s social service programme expanded in the 1960’s, with more work with the handicapped, delinquent boys, book drives, and food drives.
Our project for Canada’s Centennial was to help finance and build a church and meeting hall on a Nitinagt Indian Reserve on Vancouver Island.
While camping had been a steady part of Parliament since its inception, Parliament had always been involved in other organizations’ camps, never our own. This changed in December 1967 when the 37th Session legislated Camp Phoenix. That first camp was held at Camp George Pringle with 36 underprivileged and handicapped boys.
Since the 5th Session, resolutions had been introduced to admit girls as members. By the 1960’s the Canadian Girls in Training were taken up by the media, spearheaded by Victoria Times columnist Elizabeth Forbes. By the late 60’s the issue was being taken seriously by the OBP, but with strong Senate opposition, which included the veto of one resolution in the positive in 1971. Some of the “Older Boys’” who opposed admitting women went as far as to organize an “Older Girls’ Parliament” to sit during the Easter break.
With the election of the NDP under Dave Barrett, pressure came from the government to open Parliament to all or face losing the use of the legislative buildings. Thus the BC Youth Parliament came into being for the 44th Session in 1974. Our first female Premier was Susan Hunter of the 49th Session in 1977 (numbering of Sessions was altered in the mid-70’s).
Developments of the 1980’s saw Statten’s dreams of 1916 come to fruition with the formation of the National Youth Parliament in 1982. A Western Canada Youth Parliament was also formed in this period. While the National Parliament has collapsed, the WCYP continues on a bi-annual basis.
A key event in Parliament history was the “Vernon Conference” in 1985 involving BCYP, Alberta Tuxis Y.P., and the Junior Statesmen of America, as Parliament’s project for the U.N. International Year of the Youth. This conference was a new concept, and created a new path in Parliament’s development. This inspired new projects beyond service and camp, with an attitude that more and larger projects were possible. Such projects included “Project ‘86”, (which was cancelled due to lack of applications), and “Fun Across the Border”, involving the BCYP and J.S.A.
As part of this new direction, a long standing goal, going back to similar projects in 1970, was the creation of the Regional Youth Parliaments programme, which was meant to include more than the 80 or 90 youth who could attend the Parliament in Victoria, and spread the youth parliament movement. The first Kootenay Youth Parliament was held as a pilot project in 1987, and was followed in 1988 by Regional Youth Parliaments held throughout the province, including the Thompson Okanagan Youth Parliament, the Pacific Northwest Youth Parliament, the Vancouver Island Youth Parliament, the North Shore Youth Parliament, the New Westminster Coquitlam Burnaby Youth Parliament, and the Vancouver Youth Parliament.
In the 1990s, with increasing costs of running BCYP’s annual Session and holding Camp Phoenix, both Senate and Parliament became increasingly concerned with fundraising and the long-term financial health of the organization. Starting with a $5,000 bequest from Walter S. Owen, the Alumni Society undertook the “Walter S. Owen Fundraising Campaign” between 1991 and 1993. The campaign raised $75,000 in donations from alumni, service organizations, and corporations. The Vancouver Foundation matched that amount, to establish the Walter S. Owen Fund in the amount of $150,000. That Fund continues to provide the Alumni Society with financial security, and provides a reliable stream of income which assists the Society in funding operating and travel expenses related to Session.
BCYP undertook its own fundraising initiative, by holding a dinner-dance and “Dream Auction” in 1992. The auction subsequently evolved through various formats, to become a major annual fundraising event for Youth Parliament.
Current parliament events all have roots in past history. Trends in the Parliament include a growing role for RYP’s, rejuvenation of camp, concerns about Parliament’s role in community service, and establishing a sound financial base for the growing expense of its projects. The BCYP is proud to stand apart from other provincial youth parliaments in that ours goes beyond being a “mock” parliament, with our legislation becoming action in our community. The Parliament is also proud of those notables who have worked to promote the Parliament. Many distinguished MLA’s, MP’s, Cabinet Ministers, Clergy, YMCA, and community figures have served as Lieutenant Governor. Alumni have taken their parliamentary experience into such diverse fields as art, law, journalism, politics, business, religion, and medicine. Prominent alumni include Walter Owen, Jack Shadbolt, Robert Bonner, Ray Williston, Allan Fotheringham, Jack Davis, Eric Nicol, Linda Reid, and D.E. Turje.
The Youth Parliament, which has “lasted longer than any of the organizations that go into the making of its structure,” according to a past Premier, is sponsored by the Youth Parliament of BC Alumni Society, which was formed in 1974. Its board of directors is commonly known as “The Senate”. While one current Senator once wrote over a decade ago that “like in Ottawa, our main function is to be old,” the Senate carries on the duty of ensuring a session is held annually and supporting the endeavours of the Parliament.
For over eighty sessions, young people have made Parliament grow. The membership of each and every session contributes to constant growth and development while passing the traditions of the past.