Canada: Youth Voice fairyland? 

4 hours later and I arrive in Ottawa for the last week of my travels for this fellowship! It was quite nice to take the train that long with good views and wifi which worked the whole time … maybe that is a it of shared learning the UK rail industry could learn from the Canadians! Anyway …… 

With Canada being seen internationally as a new mover into youth voice after the election of Prime Minister Trudeau in November 2015 which then lead to the development of the Prime Minister Youth Council where much of the motivation was come to Canada and then visit Ottawa but since being here and meeting some representatives it was shown that they are carrying out much much more! 

“Canadian youth have innovative ideas and new perspectives on how we should address the opportunities and challenges of our day. That is why we established the Prime Minister’s Youth Council to ensure we hear, at the highest level of government, what young people have to say. Youth issues are everyone’s issues, and youth should have a voice in decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. On this day, and every day, I encourage young people to initiate and lead the change we seek and need now. Be the leaders of today. There is no reason to wait until tomorrow.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on International Youth Day 2016

But why was their a sudden change of mind in government institutions – well the creation of the ‘Prime Minister Youth Council’ to provide non partisan advice to the Prime Minister and the associate Cabinet was an election pledge made by the PM and his party during the election. After his election and the movement of government Canada has become known for promoting and respecting equality, diversity and inclusivity but are they supporting youth voice? This is not design to evaluate the government but is designed to show the good practice and the new learning which allows for supporting justification. 

What was quite clear from my discussions was just how expensive the council was to run as they meet four times a year, over three days and then have monthly teleconference calls. There is currently the commitment to it as it was a manifesto commitment from the current administration but this could cause issues for the future sustainability of it in the event of a administration change. However there was some discussion around the umber of 30 within the body and this was due to it being a manageable to work with rather than them representing a certain area or group. Within Wales there has been a large discussion over what age a youth participation method should include and the PM Council went with the age of 16 to 24 which was on the basis of that was announced in the manifesto pledge. There was some discussion over the way that the system worked for what they discussed and well the council members have the opportunity to raise their own issues the majority of their work is on ‘strategic priorities where they have the most impact on decisions.’ This has been a recurring theme through many meetings so far that young people voices are being put where they need them rather than on topics young people want. The final note I want to mention on this council is the term length as his again has been up for discussion. The decision was made here for it to be a 2 year term length not reappointable, so that the council members can develop knowledge to begin with of the way the system works and then allows for meaningful impact as well. The reason it was chosen for it not to be reappointable was so that the opportunity was avaliable to as many young people. 

Beyond the PM’s Youth Council they have moved further to engage other young people which are interested in having their voices heard in engagement and consultation activities supported by the Government of Canada. These opportunities range from online and in-person discussions, to consultations, and domestic and international delegations on topics such as accessibility legislation, climate change, agriculture, international relations, and youth employment. This method of engagement has meant that there has been a way to focus on the priorities of young people as these young people were allowed to prioritise 5 themes which they wanted to engage most with. This method also does not restrict access to opportunities to the select few and allows even more views to be heard. 

There has still not been any examples of where the mechanisms have specifically created specific roles for hard to reach young people but then again the importance of reaching out through those specialised networks. In both of these circumstances there was an understanding that it is still important to build on the feedback cycle and making sure that young people were aware of what was done and what impact their input had. So, fairyland? Not quite but they are still working on some great methods of engagement. While there is energy it is great to see the issue being at the forefront of work but will this energy last and it being so important in 3 years? 

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