Prepared by: Matthias Leuprecht
The inaugural Canadian Youth Summit was an important step in finalizing Canada’s Youth Policy, which was officially released during the Summit. The two day conference brought together a diverse group of young Canadians to talk about the most pressing issues facing Canadian youth today: Health and Wellness, Employment and Innovation, Skills & Learning, Gender Equality, the Environment and Climate Change as well as Leadership, Social Impact, and Democratic Participation. Each discussion topic was opened by a keynote speaker and structured breakout sessions to develop policy recommendations followed. Canadian Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister himself were present for a large portion of the conference and frequently engaged in discussions with delegates. The recommendations from the breakout sessions often overlapped and drew from other sessions, demonstrating the interconnection between the topics discussed.
Employment and Innovation, Skills & Learning
The Employment and Innovation, Skills & Learning breakout session was opened by a keynote from Kendal Netmaker, who spoke about his personal story of reaching higher education and the opportunities that presented itself to him as a result of mentorship. This opening guided my breakout session discussion to focus on how we can provide access to economic opportunities for Canadians who have historically faced barriers from fully participating in the Canadian economy, and in particular women, Indigenous peoples and Canadians who live in rural communities.
Ideas floating around the breakout session included providing grants to young people, in particular in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. In 2016, women accounted for only 20% of total enrolment of accredited undergraduate engineering programs (Engineers Canada), and Indigenous Canadians accounted for only approximately one percent of total enrolment (Engineers Canada). A specific policy recommendation revolved around equity. It was to provide these groups with increased grant, bursary, and scholarship opportunities, in additional to travel and housing bursaries for Canadians from rural communities to attend higher education institutions in STEM fields.
Moreover, it was recommended that the Government of Canada investment in outreach opportunities focused on encouraging equity seeking groups to pursue higher education in a STEM field, given girls often make the decision to pursue higher education in a STEM related field as young as 11 years old. The breakout discussion also agreed that further barriers must be removed within STEM work places to encourage more women to continue to pursue careers in STEM after receiving formal education.
Leadership, Social Impact, and Democratic Participation
The Leadership, Social Impact, and Democratic Participation session was opened by Caro Loutfi of Apathy is Boring where she focused not only on the need for increased civic participation, but also about the importance of increasing democratic representation. This guided the breakout session discussion where the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould was present and had a robust discussion on electoral reform with many of the Youth Summit delegates. Topics of discussion included lowering the voting age and finding ways to reduce barriers for more equity seeking individuals to participate in the democratic process. However, the most notable recommendation was to provide more resources for young people to participate in the democratic process. With an increasing number of ways to participate in the democratic process, whether that be through social media, summits (such as the Youth Summit), or even participating in events with a political party, young people will need to resources to be included in those processes, whether it be by means of financial support or mentorship opportunities.
Environment and Climate Change
Meredith Adler of Student Energy opened the discussion about the Environment and Climate Change by broadly encouraging young people to play an active role, not just in their personal lives, but also in their professional to take action against climate change. She also encouraged creating intergenerational cooperation to have youth actively be part of climate solutions.
The breakout session delegates agreed that young people want to actively participate in the transition to a green economy, but there often lacks resources to young people to be full participants. To ensure increased participation, the delegates recommended that Canada invest in training programs for green jobs and partner with academic institutions to create work-integrated learning opportunities for individuals to be maximize their participation in the green economy. Discussions also focused on how we can create youth participation the climate policy process by providing spaces for youth people to contribute to policy discussions at all level of Government within Canada and by representation at the international level. It was suggested that this could be most effectively done by creating intergenerational cooperation, and including all generations in discussions regarding climate policy.
As a young person active in public policy discussions, I found the delegates of the Canadian Youth Summit represented Canada’s diversity and the Summit was effective in bringing diverse perspectives together to have thoughtful discussions about how to improve the social, economic, political, and environment state of Canadian youth. I was impressed by the amount of time Ministers and the Prime Minister himself spent at the Summit. This allowed young people to have long and detailed discussions about policy topics in small groups within their breakout sessions: a rare occurrence and one which I feel is instrumental in having young people positive effect change in public policy.
However, I was disappointed by the structure of the Summit and breakout sessions. The limited amount of time allotted to the breakout sessions to form policy recommendations in some cases hindered discussions and left delegates rushed in collectively making recommendations. That said, the facilitation of the breakout sessions effective in generating discussion.
The service activities were an important part of the Youth Summit and allowed delegates to put the discussions in which they were participating into perspective by supporting initiatives designed to help the most marginalized populations in Canadian society. It also forged the opportunity for delegates to connect on issues outside of the general structure of the breakout session and hear about how taking direct action can lead to small, but necessary changes in Canadian society.
Overall, the inaugural Canadian Youth Summit was a learning opportunity for everyone involved. It successfully brought together young people from across Canada to forge necessary policy discussion, while leaving room for improvement in years to come.