At 29, Rachael Harder is one of the youngest Members of Parliament.
And she feels she still has about six years before she is no longer considered a young adult.
The Conservative MP for Lethbridge, the opposition youth critic, was in Vernon Wednesday, a guest of fellow Conservative Mel Arnold, MP for North Okanagan-Shuswap, holding a round table discussion with nine youth delegates from five North Okanagan secondary schools.
“I am almost in your generation, I’m not that far ahead,” said Harder to the delegates from Vernon, Seaton, Fulton, Kalamalka and Charles Bloom (Lumby) secondary schools, as well as the Vernon Community School.
“I’m passionate about young people for a number of different reasons. I consider myself in that category, and I’m always asking the question of how do the decisions I make today impact those that have to live with them tomorrow? And that’s you. And I believe you have a ton of potential and ability.”
Harder, like Arnold, grew up on a small farm. She started her own business of raising dogs and operating a boarding kennel at age 11 to raise money for her post-secondary education and for international mission work. She has degrees in education and in arts and social sciences.
“It’s encouraging to see young people getting involved in politics,” said Arnold to the students. “Part of what we’re doing here is to find out what’s important to you, the challenges you’re facing and how we can get you involved because you are the future and you are what happens today.”
All of the students, in Grades 9 to 12, are involved in leadership roles in some capacity at their respective schools.
Kai Rogers is a Grade 11 student at Kalamalka Secondary. He said one of the things politicians and adults can do is stop dismissing teenagers.
“We are not listened to, we are getting brushed off,” said Rogers, who wanted the politicians to hear him and Kyle Ciurka, a Grade 12 Vernon Secondary student, when it came to the topic of student loans.
Harder told the group that a student loan is a worthwhile investment and while she loathes debt, she said a student loan and a mortgage are the only two things she’d be willing to take a loan for.
“An education is an investment that will pay off in dividends because I’ll get a great job,” said Harder.
“Taking a student loan for the sake of investing in a dream for your future is worthwhile.”
However, Ciurka pointed out that student loans are “an incredible risk to take,” particularly if a student doesn’t know what post-secondary or career path to take.
“All of us here, we do very well but we’re not sure what we’re going to take (after graduation) so we want to go to university to find out if we like it and that takes student loans to do that,” said Ciurka.
“If it doesn’t work out, we’re looking at a huge debt and no job.”
Rogers agreed with Ciurka that interaction with the government and universities to make tuition fees cheaper would be a major improvement.
“Implementing programs to let people see their path is something we can learn in high school,” said Rogers.
Harder was on a tour of B.C. talking with students. The 75-minute stop in Vernon was held at Vernon Secondary’s library.