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Canada’s First Ever Youth Policy: Changing the Narrative Around Youth Civic Engagement

canadayouthsummit
Photo credit: Government of Canada
Article
December 3, 2019

We often hear politicians and officials refer to youth as the leaders of tomorrow. Increasingly however, the narrative surrounding youth civic engagement has been challenged by the notion that youth should not be viewed merely as the leaders of tomorrow, but rather, as the new leaders of today.

Young Canadians today are the most educated, connected and diverse generation this country has ever seen. They are actively serving their communities and advocating for a more fair, diverse and inclusive Canada.1 Technological advancements and social media have allowed today’s youth to actively participate in civic engagement in ways that were not possible just two decades ago. On May 2, 2019 the Prime Minister and Minister of Youth, Justin Trudeau, launched Canada’s first-ever youth policy during the Canada Youth Summit.

Canada’s Youth Policy was designed  to reflect the values and priorities of young Canadians, and to give young people a voice in matters that are important to them and create more opportunities for young people to build a stronger, more inclusive Canada.3 Youth represent a quarter of the Canadian population and reflect Canada’s entire diversity. Given this, and the fact that almost all government policies and decisions have an impact on young people’s lives, it seems only fair that youth have the right to influence these decisions, both individually and collectively. The policy was developed based-off the findings from the national dialogue with youth that the government launched in 2018. More than 5,000 young Canadians took part in the national conversation, resulting in more than 10,000 individual responses and 68 submissions from youth-led discussions and youth-serving organizations.4 Throughout this national conversation, young people discussed the issues that affected their lives, the types of supports they needed to succeed and the ways they wanted to be engaged.Six priority areas were identified based on dialogue with youth: Leadership and Impact; Health and Wellness; Innovation, Skills and Learning; Employment; Truth and Reconciliation; and Environment and Climate Action. To learn more about the findings from the national dialogue with youth, I encourage you to explore the What We Heard Report (WWHR)

The youth policy states that the Government of Canada is committed to creating meaningful opportunities for young voices to be heard and respected, and to providing accessible support mechanisms that meet the evolving needs of youth.6 Initiatives such as the Prime Minister’s Youth Council uphold these commitments by giving young people the opportunity to have their voices heard on issues that are important to young Canadians and Canada as a whole. The council is made up of a diverse group of individuals from regions all across Canada and reflects a range of educational, employment and life experiences.7 The policy also states that over the next five years, the Government of Canada will commit to having 75% of crown corporations include a young person on their board.8 

Although these initiatives are a step in the right direction, the policy lacks specification on how youth’s opinions and concerns will be actually implemented and considered throughout the policy making process. It also fails to address how the Government of Canada will eliminate stigma and discrimintory ideologies regarding youth and their competence. Finally, while including a young person on the board of crown corporations may sound like progress, it could also veer into the territory of tokenism.

Although the narrative regarding youth and civic engagement is shifting, many individuals in positions of power still view today’s youth as lacking certain abilities required to be “successful” leaders. Common accusations against youth often involve claims that youth are too distracted by popular culture, social media and are ultimately “detached” from the real world.9 Therefore, although it is wonderful that Canada’s Youth Policy strives to include the voices of youth, it is simply naive to assume that the voices of young Canadians will truly be heard without specific rules and regulations in place holding officials accountable. With respect to incorporating the voices of underrepresented demographics of youth, the policy also acknowledges the importance and power of Indigenous youth’s perspectives, but again, does not specify how internalized racism will be addressed. It is not enough to say that, “The Government of Canada values its relationship with Indigenous youth and vows to amplify their voices,” without outlining what measures will be taken to ensure this actually takes place.10

Although not perfect, Canada’s Youth Policy does represent a step in the right direction to eliminating the social isolation of underrepresented demographics of youth in civic engagement and leadership initiatives. The national dialogue with youth served as a powerful platform in which the concerns of young Canadians could be heard and respected. Far from being apathetic, young people are challenging their governments, holding them accountable and demanding change.11 Hopefully, as we move forward, the Government of Canada will continue to engage with youth across the country to ensure that the federal policies and programs, as well as the six priority areas identified within the youth policy, remain relevant and continue to meet young people’s needs. 

Notes: 

  1. “Prime Minister launches Canada’s Youth Policy,” Office of the Prime Minister, Accessed July 5, 2019, https://pm.gc.ca/eng
  2. “Canada Youth Summit,” Government of Canada, last modified May 2, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/youth/services/canada-youth-summit.html
  3. “Canada’s Youth Policy,” Government of Canada, Accessed on July 5, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/youth/programs/policy.html
  4. Government of Canada, “Canada’s Youth Policy.”
  5. Government of Canada, “Canada’s Youth Policy.”
  6. Government of Canada, “Canada’s Youth Policy.”
  7. “Prime Minister’s Youth Council,” Government of Canada, Accessed on July 5, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/campaign/prime-ministers-youth-council.html
  8. “Canada’s Youth Policy,” Government of Canada, Accessed July 5, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/youth/programs/policy.html
  9.  Deon Price, “This Youth Generation: Are today’s youth leaders of tomorrow?,” Daily Republic, last modified May 25, 2018, https://www.dailyrepublic.com/all-dr-news/opinion/local-opinion-columnists/
  10. Government of Canada, “Canada’s Youth Policy.”
  11. Hasan Abu Nimah, “The youth as future leaders,” The Jordan Times, last modified December 4, 2018, http://jordantimes.com/opinion/hasan-abu-nimah/youth-.