Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says apathy among young Canadians isn’t the challenge, it’s connecting them with opportunities for civic engagement and public service.

A few weeks ago, Canada successfully hosted the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. To close the conference, I joined youth on stage and announced the final amount pledged by donors.

Almost $13 billion USD will go a long way in fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. But the young people who stood beside me? They represent the first generation that can end these diseases for good. Ultimately, it is up to them, and I cannot say I am too worried. In fact, our future could not be in better hands.

Young Canadians are the most educated, most connected, and most diverse generation of youth that this country has ever seen. They are shaping our communities in ways that couldn’t have been imagined even 20 years ago. Yet I know many young Canadians can – and want to – be more engaged.

Our government is looking 40 years down the road – not just four – and our youth will be instrumental in achieving this vision. Young people have the ability to think decades ahead and are not afraid to challenge the status quo today.

With the right opportunities and support, we can empower more youth to take the stage. Wherever that stage may be – at town halls or global conferences, at home or around the world – our government wants to help.

That is why, in Budget 2016, we made several commitments to youth, including the creation of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, so we can hear – at the highest level of government – what young people have to say. We also allocated $105 million over five years in support of a Youth Service Initiative, so young people can gain valuable work and life experience while providing support for communities across Canada.

On July 19, we launched our search for the first fifteen Council members. In the ensuing weeks, we received over 13,000 applications from young Canadians, aged 16 to 24, from coast to coast to coast.

Fifteen more youth will join the Council early next year. Together, these 30 young Canadians will reflect gender balance and represent Canada’s diversity: our ten provinces and three territories, our largest cities and smallest towns, and our many languages, ethnicities, and cultures.

The Council will not be dismissed as the “kids’ table.” Young Canadians deserve their own spot at the highest level of government, and will have the opportunity to share policy advice directly with me.

The Council will not be dismissed as the “kids’ table.” Young Canadians deserve their own spot at the highest level of government, and will have the opportunity to share policy advice directly with me.

At the end of September, I will meet with the Council for the first time. I expect us to engage in important and difficult discussions on employment and gender equality, and I anticipate learning about many new issues through the Council members’ diverse, firsthand perspectives. I have no doubt our discussions will identify emerging issues and lead to novel solutions for persistent social and economic problems.

These discussions will also not be limited to Ottawa, nor to 30 young Canadians. Over 140 fellow parliamentarians – and counting – have committed to establish Youth Councils in their communities. This means hundreds of youth across the country will have the chance to meet with their Member of Parliament several times a year, so they can share their perspectives closer to home.

A few years ago, as the Liberal Party’s critic for youth, I put forward a motion before the House of Commons to come up with a national service policy for young Canadians. Today, I am proud to say that our government is working toward a national Youth Service Initiative.

The philosophy behind this initiative is simple: If a young person wants to serve their community, they should have the opportunity to do so. We should be able to connect young people to organizations that want to connect to them. And we should do more for youth who want to do more of what they are already doing.

It is a lack of awareness of the available service opportunities – not apathy – that prevents many young people from volunteering their time.

It is a lack of awareness of the available service opportunities – not apathy – that prevents many young people from volunteering their time. Some young people want to participate, but have never been asked. Meanwhile, many youth service organizations want to take on more youth, but do not have the capacity or resources.

Through the Youth Service Initiative, we can connect more youth to meaningful volunteer and service opportunities that they otherwise would not have been aware of, or would have not had the ability to pursue.

When we make it easier for youth to find specific causes that matter to them, we also help them face one of the biggest challenges of their generation: finding high quality volunteer and service opportunities that offer the skills and experiences they need to flourish.

In every community I visit, young people tell me they cannot get a job because they do not have any work experience, and they cannot get any work experience because they do not have a job.

It is a vicious cycle – and one that our government is working to help break.

When we increase the accessibility and scope of volunteer and service opportunities nationwide, we make it easier for youth to find these essential work and life experiences. More opportunities mean more young people will have the chance to practice leadership, develop individual strengths, and build interpersonal skills – so they can thrive in every aspect of life, both personal and professional.

Our government will not dictate who serves where or why or with whom. Instead, we will provide the means to respond to the needs of our communities and to the ambitions of our youth.

I speak on behalf of my fellow parliamentarians when I say how fortunate we are to sit in the House of Commons, and how lucky we are that people encouraged us and made us understand the value and importance of serving our communities.

With the Youth Service Initiative and the Youth Council, our government has two extraordinary opportunities to instill a culture of service, civic engagement, and global citizenship in Canadian youth – regardless of their background or personal circumstances – that will carry on through later stages of life.

These initiatives will encourage young Canadians to discover our country for the truly diverse, enriching place that it is – and, for some, force them to confront their own biases and assumptions, all within Canada’s borders.

Above all, I believe the Youth Service Initiative and the Youth Council will enable more young people to understand the responsibilities of service and the extraordinary satisfaction that comes with being able to serve.

I look forward to sharing more details about these initiatives – and other new youth policies – in the coming months. Together, we will help youth build a better Canada – and better world – one community at a time.

This article is part of the Public Policy and Young Canadians special feature.

Photo: Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press


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