UBC alumna Morrell Andrews, who graduated in 2017 with a degree in international relations, is leading independent consultation sessions across Canada that will contribute to the country’s first-ever youth policy.
Announced by the federal government in February, the yet-to-be-drafted youth policy aims to be a tool that would bring youth perspectives into the government’s decision-making process.
“Young Canadians face a number of unique challenges, but they also have innovative solutions to turn those challenges into opportunities,” said Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, in a written statement to The Ubyssey.
“This is the first step toward building and shaping a federal youth policy for Canada that will hold this and future government to account when it comes to issues that are important to young Canadians.”
Ottawa started the consultation process the same month, calling on youth to share their ideas online or through in-person sessions. The statement said it also would collaborate with youth activists and youth-focused organizations to reach “often under-represented” communities.
“Our government will be supporting some larger events across Canada, but the intent of this consultation is to have young people lead the conversation and host their own sessions,” said Pascuzzo.
He added that the office has provided a Conversation Guide to help youths plan these sessions, and noted that there have been a growing number of events for them.
Andrews, who was not involved in the policy’s development early on, decided to initiate multiple consultations when she noticed a “gap in awareness” about this initiative.
“It seemed like no one had any idea that there was going to be a youth policy, or that there was a consultation process going on,” she said.
“At the end of April, I kind of sat down and ... I said I was going to hold my own consultation process and show the government how to do it correctly because I think there were some less than ideal ways that they had undertaken their process.”
According to Andrews, the discussions focus on six themes that hold a “very significant youth lens:” jobs and the economy, reconciliation and Indigenous rights, climate and environment, justice, humans rights and equality, health and wellness, and international systems and affairs.
“Ultimately this policy is a youth policy, it’s not necessary foreign policy or public policy,” she said.
“Everything that we talk about has to have that context that young people can bring into the conversation, so that’s how we came up with those six themes.”
She added that out of all themes, many youth raised concerns about “constant precarious and temporary work.” They also discussed access to appropriate mental health resources, the need for immediate action to combat climate change, as well as discrimination in the workforce and public services.
At the same time, reaching out to and including voices from under-represented communities is considered a “definite priority” for Andrews and her team. Accordingly, they have partnered with groups such as Native Child and Family Services in Toronto, newcomer refugee youth in Ottawa and the Kwanlin Dün First Nations Youth Council in Whitehorse.
In response, Andrews noted that the initiative has received a “super excited” response from youth participants, who ranged from the ages of 14 to late 20s. One consultation event was hosted on July 28 at UBC itself.
“We’re not in Nunavut and we’re not in PEI, but every other province and territory we are holding conferences in, so it’s exploded. We went from 5 cities to a team of 75 people in less than a month,” she said.
Until the end of the process, her team hopes to hold 27 consultation sessions while expressing optimism that the initiative is “constantly expanding.”
After the consultations
The government has also held around 50 consultation sessions between February and June 2018, following by 17 smaller “sense-making” sessions to analyze the collected data.
The policy-drafting sessions will then be held in the end of August.
“Sometimes with these things, you’ll send in your recommendation and your document goes to a desk somewhere in Ottawa to just die, so it’s nice that I’m going to be able to take what everyone has told us across all the cities and basically directly use that,” said Andrews, who will also be taking part in the writing process.
Moving forward, she hopes that the government will release a first draft to the public for feedback and adapt the policy for multiple departments.
“I want to see a policy that is mainstreamed throughout various departments in the government,” Andrews said.
“I think it’s important that it’s not just seen as a document that’s by itself, that it’s seen as a document that has value and is transferable to other policies that are happening and different policy discussions.”