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Questions remain about Trudeau’s portfolio

by Laura Marchand November 17, 2015

The Prime Minister is Canada’s first Minister of Youth

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau begins his four-year term in Ottawa, all eyes have been on his cabinet: the gender parity, the “badass” defence minister, and the refugee crisis, to name a few. Yet one portfolio continues to evade the public eye: the Prime Minister’s.

In addition to being named the Prime Minister, Trudeau has assigned himself two folios: Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth. The former position has existed for over 20 years, tasked with solving federal-provincial and interprovincial conflicts (such as territory) and any issues that cross provincial lines.

The other is not quite so clear.

Canada has never had a dedicated minister for youth affairs. Since 2003, the cabinet has had the Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, which attended to issues including, but not limited to, the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP). But the position that Trudeau created and then gave to himself—“Minister of Youth”—is without precedent.

Which is not to say he is unfamiliar with youth issues. Trudeau completed the University of British Columbia’s education program, and spent years teaching in a K-12 school in the Vancouver area, in addition to being a substitute teacher across the city.

Following the Liberal Party’s defeat to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2006, Trudeau joined the party and became the head of the Liberal ‘youth task force.’ The force was formed to investigate issues such as youth voter engagement and the role of youth gangs in crime. At the time, Trudeau was described by the Ottawa Citizen as being “an activist on youth and environmental issues,” and pleased that “people are going to start really looking at some youth issues.”

Over the course of the election campaign, Trudeau also made several promises that may fall under the jurisdiction of Minister for Youth.

Trudeau promised to create a “Youth Advisory Council” staffed by 18- to 24-year-old Canadians who will provide non-partisan advice directly to Trudeau on national issues. Other promises include a $30 million investment to create 40,000 “youth jobs,” a plan delaying student loan payments until the graduate makes over $25,000 a year and a support system for low- and middle-income Canadian families to help them pay for post-secondary education.

For some, Trudeau’s creation of the youth position is encouraging.

“[He rightfully] gave himself this portfolio,” said Thierry Tardif, a fourth-year Concordia University student and spokesperson for VoteNote, an app which gives people information about political candidates in their ridings. “He, as the Prime Minister, will be able to reconnect youth with the politics of our country … he’ll help reform the bond between youth and elected officials.”

Others claim they find Trudeau’s new position vague.

“The thing I’m the most confused about is what this position Trudeau now has means,” said Sarah Winchester, a third-year Women’s Studies student at Concordia University. “I’m not even sure what [these] ‘youth issues’ are … I think that other issues could be addressed [instead].”

“Our future is the future of our young people. It means giving them the right tools to succeed and to contribute to our economy,” said Trudeau at a campaign event on Sept. 11, according to CBC.

Numbers from Elections Canada seem to suggest that first time voters—such as immigrants and youth—played a significant role in handing the Liberals their majority win. Pilot projects, such as advanced polling booths on universities for any riding across the country, may have also played a role in encouraging youth to vote.

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