Youngest in Canada: Two Northern BC Elected Officials Make Their Mark

The NCLGA region is home to a staggering number of talented, passionate and resilient community leaders – and now, that number has grown to include two more.

At just 21 and 22 years old respectively, Jessica McCallum-Miller (Kitimat-Stikine Regional District) and Claire Rattee (District of Kitimat) are among the youngest, if not the youngest female elected officials in all of Canada.

Jessica McCallum-Miller (left) and Claire Rattee (right)

“Most people see the word ‘politician’ and automatically think of a man in a suit,” says McCallum-Miller. “As a young, female elected official, it is difficult to overcome that stereotype when I meet new people.”

The two’s diversity does not stop at simply being female and young. McCallum-Miller is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, and an avid painter. Rattee, a recovered addict turned business owner (she and her fiancé opened Kitimat’s first tattoo shop together in 2011), sees stereotypes in a different light – as an opportunity to teach. “I have a lot more stereotypes than just my age to overcome. I am certainly much younger than any of my colleagues, but I am also a female, have lots of body modifications and am a recovered drug addict. I’m hoping that through my work on council I can help people reassess the way they judge someone based on their appearance.”

The challenges that each face with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine & District of Kitimat, however, are not unlike that of other, greenhorn politicians. “The biggest learning curve has been realizing how much work is involved if you want to get things done,” says Rattee. “I wasn’t completely prepared for how much it would take from me. I am blessed that I own my own business which gives me the flexibility I need to attend all of the meetings and do the extra footwork.”

McCallum-Miller’s challenges were not with time, but with understanding those who also held a board seat. “Each represents rural and outlying communities throughout the Northwest of BC, each with different constituents, challenges, projects, ideas and passions. I learned that it takes communication to build a community, and I learned of the connection each community has with one another [through] collaboration.”

Perhaps it is because they hail from the same region of BC, but the two’s passions are aligned. They note a keen interest for politics, and a passion for issues such as environmental safety strategies, relations with First Nations, affordable housing and living strategies for all, and access to substance abuse recovery services. In addition to citing her interest on growing Kitimat’s local economy, Rattee notes that “things I never considered to be priorities are becoming important to me as I learn more about the needs of our community.”

Rattee also says, similarly to McCallum-Miller, that working to build stronger connections between surrounding communities is of the utmost importance.

Everything – all of the hard work, understanding, and negotiations – is worth it in the end for these two councillors. One of Rattee’s best moments so far was helping “a new developer and existing tenants reach a fair agreement for both parties. The gratitude from both of them makes all of the hard work worth it.”

McCallum-Miller felt gratitude from working alongside like-minded individuals. “When I met others who truly did their best each day to brainstorm, include others in the conversation, voice their opinions, and ensure that the public’s best interests were being met – I knew I was in the right place.”

“I’m ecstatic about meeting and working with such diverse and outgoing elected officials throughout BC and Canada, it takes time and dedication to represent the public and create positive change; each of you are amazing.”

The Northwest is certainly filled with strong female leaders. From Stacey Tyers, Chair of the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District; to Alice Maitland, Mayor of Hazelton (possibly the oldest and longest-serving female mayor in all of Canada); to Galina Durrant, Mayor of Stewart; to Carol Leclerc, newly elected Mayor of Terrace; or Gail Lowry, Mayor of New Hazelton.

This, of course, isn’t including the countless number of female councilors, regional directors, CAOs, and other high-level administrative staff that are putting a spin on the traditional political demographic.

The United Nations defines 30 per cent as the minimal percentage of women required for government to reflect women´s concerns. Women today represent 16 per cent of mayors and 26 per cent of councillors in Canada, for an average of 24 per cent.

FCM's Standing Committee on Increasing Women's Participation in Municipal Government has undertaken a number of initiatives, activities and programs to encourage women who are considering running for municipal office. Kitimat-Stikine Regional District's Chair (and coincidentally, the regional district under which both young elected officials fall), Stacey Tyers, is a non-board member for the committee. To learn more, visit here.