This time last year, young Canadians embarked on a journey of change that saw them shatter the stereotypical label of apathy and cynicism. As young people headed to the polls in record numbers, the weight of their decision felt heavy as they cast their ballots. The cry of a generation was heard loud and clear. It was clear that Canadian youth wanted to be listened to, and more importantly, they wanted to be given the opportunity to act as agents of change in their lives, and equal partners in their nation.
On July 19th, Prime Minister Trudeau delivered on his campaign promise by officially launching the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. Since the launch, there has been an astounding response from young Canadians from all corners of our country. Thousands of people have put up their hands, wanting to be active participants in our government, and more continue to do so every day.
This presents a challenge: how can we effectively engage with everyone that wants to contribute and serve their communities? It is also an opportunity that is welcome, and long overdue: how can government incorporate youth participation in policy development, engagement, and in the design of its services in a meaningful and authentic way? Effectively — creating a government for the 21st century. This is the challenge of our generation.
I am living proof that investing in young Canadians is investing in the future of our country.
As a new father, and someone who has worked both with and alongside young Canadians for the majority of my life, not only do I appreciate, but I fully support the prime minister and this government’s interest in meeting these challenges, including providing youth with greater opportunities, as well as giving them a more powerful voice within the walls of government. This appreciation stems primarily from my personal experiences.
Having grown up in a single-parent household, I developed a keen understanding of the importance of social investments made by various levels of government in those most vulnerable. I, to this day, continue to be grateful for those investments made into making post-secondary education more affordable, which allowed me to be the first in my family to pursue a graduate degree, to providing support to struggling families, and to making quality investments in health care that serves all Canadians. The latter of these important programs saved my life twice, most recently at the age of 29, when I was diagnosed with cancer.
To be able to share these experiences with Canada’s top decision makers, I believe, would not only have been of great value to me but also useful to those very decision makers. I am living proof that investing in young Canadians is investing in the future of our country.
My story is not unique. Indeed, the positive result of these long-term investments in our collective future is that today’s young Canadians are part of the most educated and connected generation of youth the world has ever seen. They are also the world’s first digitally native generation. Even so, they still face challenges. They face more challenges entering the labour market; many live the idea of a stable career and job security vicariously through their parents. Many will marry later, face higher living costs, and require more credentials to get a job. The rules of climbing the career ladder have changed, many weighed down by high student debt and an unforeseen retirement with troubling pensions. In fact, the ladder has disappeared for many.
Young people are looking for genuine opportunities to learn, contribute and to make a meaningful impact in their communities.
Government plays a role in addressing these issues and in the instances of student debt and pension plans, our government has stepped up by making loans not repayable until recipients earn at least $25,000 a year. In a historic moment, our Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau worked with his provincial counterparts to deliver CPP changes that will affect generations to come.
In other areas, youth, for the most part, have made strides in recovering from the recession. However, today’s youth do not represent a homogenous group or entity; they are not simply a special interest group. They are tied by some shared values and experiences — as is any generation — but digging deeper into particular demographics, and the policy challenges vary. The government must continue to deliver help and relief to those that need it the most.
Today is a special day: International Youth Day. Young people are looking for genuine opportunities to learn, contribute and to make a meaningful impact in their communities. Impressions about this cohort fuelled by generalizations, such as “a sense of entitlement”, assuming social media equals engaging youth, are concepts that are just not true. Together we must work to change this narrative. Imagine for an instant if we began generalizing generations based on one simple interaction? My experience talking to young people and those who work with them says otherwise, and as responsible decision makers, we must shift our focus to building the capacity of, and opening doors for them to grow and prosper.
As we celebrate International Youth Day, it is also an opportunity to celebrate the leadership and abilities of all young people who inspire and have taken action. The challenges that we face as a society, and particularly as a government, are not issues that will be solved in one or two terms but challenges that we must continually strive to address.
So today, please take the opportunity to think of an impressive young person you have come across recently. Is it your colleague, your neighbour, or a friend? As the prime minster has said so many times before, youth are not the leaders of tomorrow but today. So go ahead and share your story of #leaderstoday.
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