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Tomorrow’s Leaders Need A Voice Today: Senator Moodie

Our young people will live out the consequences of the decisions we face today. But for decision-makers, their voices don’t count.
Read the article here: https://sencanada.ca/en/sencaplus/opinion/tomorrow-s-leaders-need-a-voice-today-senator-moodie/

Our young people will live out the consequences of the decisions we face today.

But for decision-makers, their voices don’t count.

We are told it is urgent to tackle climate change, yet those responsible for making the difficult decisions to do so quail before an electorate that is not always ready to make the necessary changes. For political leaders, the next election trumps the next generation.

Almost one out of five Canadian children live below the poverty line; at the current pace of progress, it will take 54 years to fix this. But this is seldom even mentioned. Why would it be when children can’t vote?

The application of Jordan’s Principle — which says First Nations children should have access to the same services and support available to other children in Canada — is uneven at best. Our elected leaders would rather talk about almost anything else.

Canadian youth need a voice in Parliament. Someone to engage with them and carry their message to the highest offices in the land — and someone with enough clout to make our leaders listen.

That’s why I am advocating for the creation of a Children and Youth Commissioner.

This is not a new idea.

The Honourable Landon Pearson, a former senator, recommended establishing a federal youth commissioner more than 25 years ago. Her recommendation was taken up in a 2007 report from the Senate Committee on Human Rights, aptly named Children: The Silenced Citizens.

“Canada’s Children’s Commissioners could serve as a powerful catalyst for legislative, policy and attitudinal change,” the report said.

“The Children’s Commissioner should be endowed not simply with a right to hear from children, but with a statutory responsibility to do so meaningfully.”

With that in mind, one obvious question arose: What would children and youth say if we spoke to them today?

That’s what I tried to find out.

After I introduced a bill to create a children’s commissioner, my office reached out to youth networks across the country. In all, we spoke to or heard from almost 500 diverse youth, who helped us determine what the commissioner’s focus should be.

They told us they wanted someone who would meet them and listen to them.

They told us they wanted someone to speak for them in Parliament.

And they told us that they wanted someone who could make positive changes on their behalf.

We collected their findings in a report my office released earlier this year, A Look into Our Thoughts: A Collaborative Initiative on the Creation of a Commissioner for Canada’s Children and Youth. I urge you to read it, if for no other reason than to see how wise and thoughtful our young Canadians are.

If anything, the pandemic has given greater urgency to the need for a children and youth commissioner. Their schooling has been disrupted, they’ve been isolated from their peer groups and they still face uncertainty about their immediate future.

Suicide is already the leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14 and the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 17-year-olds. Mental health supports are already in too-short supply.

It is too early to say what the medium- and long-term effects of the pandemic will be on our young people. But Parliament’s response — absent a powerful children’s commissioner — is all too predictable.

What can you do?

Get involved and let your representatives — in the Senate and in the House of Commons — know how you feel. It’s an issue that transcends partisanship, that wouldn’t cost a lot of money and that would do measurable good for the next generation of Canadians.

In 1991, Canada ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says among other things that signatories must ensure “to the maximum extent possible” the survival and development of children.

Creating a parliamentary office to represent children’s interests seems like the bare minimum.