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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future

Agendas

SELWYN HICKS,
Youth Director, the Spicer Commission

I want to talk a little bit about disempowerment.

One of my favourite examples of the disempowerment of youth is the high school system in Ontario.

Several years ago, they changed to a grade 12 system. It was a big decision. I am not an educator, so I can not tell you whether it was a good or bad move from that perspective.

What I can tell you is that not one of the young people I have ever talked to was ever consulted about that decision.

And I think it is wrong.

Another example involved something called the Youth Task Force that was set up by the Metropolitan Toronto Council, They set up this Youth Task Force, because they were concerned about the increase of violence and racial tension in the community.

I went to one of these Task Force meetings and addressed the chair.

I am really, really happy that youth is again on the political agenda, I told him, because two years ago you told me that there was no funds for youth, we were not a priority, so I am really happy that we are back on the political agenda. But, I asked, could you tell me how many people sit on this Youth Task Force?

And he said, "Oh about 18 people, we have school trustees, and then some councillors, and then some youth servicing professionals.

And, I said, that is really neat. Could you tell what percentage would there be of youth on this Task Force? He responded that it was a very small percentage.

So, I asked him, How small? Is there one?

And he said, No, there isn't one. That is small!

If you were to set up a task force to deal with women's issues and there wasn't one woman on the panel, that would be front page news in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. That panel would not be able to produce a report that had any validity.

But it's all right, when we do it with young people.

Part of the reason for this lies with young people.

Why in the hell do we accept it? Why in the hell aren't we saying that is not right? Why aren't we demanding our rightful places in those power bodies that make decisions that effect us?

When the Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future was established, I had an opportunity to bump into Keith Spicer in Toronto. I promptly took opportunity raise with him the issue of disempowerment with him. I asked him why, when we represent 30 percent of the population of Canada, there wasn't a young person appointed as a commissioner?

He responded by saying, I agree with you, but I don't have the power to appoint Commissioners. That is something that only Brian Mulroney can do.

I persisted by asking what he had done to empower young people...to make sure that the voice of young people is heard? He didn't have an answer, but I respect the guy because what he said was, we are making a big mistake here, and would you come to Ottawa to help correct it?

Because there were a lot of media around, I thought he was just saying something he would never follow through on.

But, he did. Two days latter and I was off to Ottawa and we had a meeting. The next thing I knew I left my job and within a week I was in Ottawa working with the Commission.

The most important thing that happened with the Spicer Commission is not the report that we produced. I think the most important thing that happened is 700,000 people got off their butts and came to a meeting with other Canadians to talk about their country.

Of the 700,000, at least 300,000 were young people. So my personal goal was met. Young people spoke out to the forum in a big way.

I am disappointed that we never really had a youth Commissioner. I had hoped that we would be able to get a young person as one of the Commissioners.

Much to my dismay, a group of PhDs were hired to come in and interpret the responses that we had. I felt that there should have been young people at that table helping make the interpretations.

As I went across the country with the Commission, I had an opportunity to meet with many young people and I can tell you that I am really excited about what I see across Canada with youth.

There is something brewing. It is not a revolution, but there is something out there; it is strong and it is real and it is ticking... and when it explodes we are going to have an amazing country.

If we can find a way to connect young people from east and west and north and south and to get them to figure out what the youth perspective is, if they find a way to mobilize themselves, watch out!