Our Future is Bright

Earlier this month, I had the first meeting of the new 2019 Durham Youth Advisory Board and it reminded me that it would be good to share more about this program and the optimism I have from interacting with young people in Durham and across Canada. This is the second year that I have had a youth advisory group to provide perspective for my role as Member of Parliament and the new members of the board are as equally intelligent and keen as the members I had last year. At a time that we often see media reports about disconnected or social media-obsessed youth, I want to give you a different perspective. I have found the next generation to be thoughtful, knowledgeable and far more aware about the issues than generations before them. Our future is bright.

The Durham Youth Advisory Board is not a political exercise for the MP. The young members on the board are in the driver’s seat. The board is non-partisan and made up of high school or post-secondary students who express interest in serving in this role through responding to advertisements or through word of mouth. I try to ensure there is representation from all parts of my riding so that we get a proper cross-section of views from the rural and urban areas of Durham. My team has also designed the board to ensure the youth members run the program. I only attend a few meetings throughout the year and ask for input on a few issues, so they are free to explore topics that are top of mind in their peer group. This has led to some good feedback from participants and an insightful final report from the 2018 board at the end of their tenure. That report reveals a range of issues that are important to our young people and that parliamentarians and the wider society can learn from.

A major topic of discussion last year was reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples of Canada and what that meant for people from non-Indigenous backgrounds. The board had recommendations related to greater cooperation with private and public sectors to help ensure better employment and economic outcomes for First Nation communities. They also included recommendations on accountability to ensure that dealings were fair and professional. This was positive to see as their generation may be able to make major progress on healing some of the scars from Canada’s past.

The group also discussed the major issues of the day as well including the renegotiation of NAFTA and wider issues related to international trade and the economy. For the directors of the board, the biggest take-away was the immediate need for the federal government to push towards a collective agreement with the United States on dropping tariffs. They had a great level of knowledge of issues impacting the country and the challenges they may face with respect to job prospects and the economy.

There was one key topic that I asked the youth advisory board to examine in a session in which I participated and that was the subject of mental health and its impact on Canadian youth. From our frank, positive conversation, the board was able to conclude that there is a greater need for resources in schools to help our young people with mental health issues and more of a way for them to play a role in helping their peers. They also suggested that all levels of government should work towards a national mental health plan of action. The board’s insights have inspired my upcoming ‘Durham Wellness Initiative’ that we will be launching at the end of the month.

A couple of weeks ago I also had the opportunity to speak to political science classes at Durham College and was asked many hard-hitting and topical questions by the students. They were from across the GTA, but it was clear they shared some similar priorities with my youth advisory board. The professor concluded the classes with the million dollar question; what could these students do to make a real difference in their community and country? My reply was the same reason I began these advisory boards: “get engaged”. Get out from behind the keyboard or smart phone and work with others to find solutions or make a difference. Share your experience, help others and think big. If you are between the ages of 16-24 and want to be part of our Durham Youth Advisory Board, contact my office to find out more. Canada has a bright future, but we need people to step up and turn that potential into reality. erin.otoole@parl.gc.ca or call 1-866-436-1141.