'The value of service'

Because we’re well aware how much he perplexes you, here is Justin Trudeau’s maiden speech in the House, delivered on Wednesday evening this week as he tabled his first piece of legislation.

Mr. Speaker, when I ran for office, I made promises to the people of Papineau. I promised that I would be a strong voice for them in this House and that I would be equal to the task when it comes to taking steps that will really help the people in my community. This economic crisis brings huge challenges, but at the same time huge opportunities.

    I have often said that the strength of Papineau resides in its spirit of people helping people. As we face this crisis, mutual help is becoming increasingly important. What is good for Papineau is also good for Canada. It is one of the values that bring us together. Among Canadian values is being there for one another. That is precisely what is needed these days.

    If an economic crisis is difficult, it also represents an opportunity for the government to help Canadians. However, the way we choose to help Canadians needs to be effective in the immediate, but has to also carry through a lasting impact that will make a difference in the generations to come.

    The opportunity to invest in our communities and non-profit organizations, that do such a tremendous job already of helping out Canadians in times of need, is extraordinarily important. We need to make sure that our community organizations and the charitable entities, that work so hard to help out our seniors, youth, people in difficulty, working families or single mothers, receive stable sources of help.

    At the same time, on the other hand, we have young people across this country who are facing a crisis of relevance. They are asking questions about how they fit in to this increasingly globalized, massive world, where every day they are told in different ways that they do not matter, that one day they will be important but for now they just need to keep quiet and do their thing. They turn to us and ask what that thing is and we have no answers for them.

    We need to look at investing in our youth as something that is essential, not just for them but for all of society. If we can pair up young people who are seeking for ways to matter in our society with communities and community organizations, that need help to allow Canadians to get through the tough times that exist particularly now but will exist always in good years and in bad, then we are creating a way that Canada can be stronger in a genuine, long-term fashion.

    Young people get a bad rap often for being apathetic, disconnected and cynical about the world. The reality is that sometimes they are a little cynical, apathetic and frustrated at the way the world is around them, but it is not because they do not care about the world. On the contrary, it is because they care so much that they are deeply frustrated that they do not have ways to make the world a better place. They do not have a voice that gets heard to shape the world that will be theirs some day, they keep being told.

    The motion I am putting before the House is to ask the human resources committee to study best practices from around the world, to listen to community partners, provincial partners, municipal partners, NGOs, universities, schools, people who work with young people and young people themselves, all of these groups, and come up with a national service policy for youth in Canada.

    A national youth service policy would simply say to any young Canadian who wanted to serve their country, we will provide them the opportunity to do so. It seems like an obvious thing, that if a young person would want to serve, they would be given opportunities to do so. But the reality is that tens of thousands of young people apply to programs and organizations across the country, organizations that have their impact nationally, locally, provincially, regionally, and see themselves turned away from the help they can offer simply because of lack of funding and lack of a willingness by the government, by the House, to invest in our young people to give them the tools, the skills, and the understanding that they can be powerful, committed, and engaged citizens.

    The details of this policy need to be worked out in consultation. I am certainly not pretending that I have all the answers. Far from it, but there are many Canadian organizations, individuals and groups, who fought long and hard about ways to involve young Canadians in active service, in engaged long-term volunteerism, that allows this country to meet the needs of so many communities and individuals who find themselves struggling.

    It is important to understand that I am proposing that we establish a policy to ensure that any young person who wants to serve our country is given the opportunity to do so.

    We are not working towards a program to that end. We are not saying that this is what Canada, its communities and its provinces need. We are simply establishing a framework to give young people a choice, many choices. They could see how they would like to serve and there would be a framework to approve the provinces, municipalities, NGOs and charitable community organizations, which would then find volunteers—young Canadians who perhaps live in that community or who perhaps come from the other side of the country—to provide all Canadians with the services that are so well delivered by community organizations.

    It is not up to us here to say that a certain region needs young people to plant trees, or that another region needs this or that. It is a question of providing a means to respond to the needs of our communities.

  Providing communities with volunteer efforts for young people to serve is a way for the government to respond to the very real needs that our communities face across the country. This is an extraordinary opportunity.

    Many different models and choices need to be looked at and should eventually be offered.

    First of all, what is service? There are two great ideas out there about how service to one’s country would look. There is the typical model of the gap year, which is in place in many parts of Europe, including England, where the Russell commission report came out a number of years ago recommending the adoption of exactly this, a national policy on youth service.

    Within a gap year, typically between the end of high school and the beginning of post-secondary education or one’s career, young people take time to travel and work in various communities. They learn a number of jobs and skills that will not necessarily be the careers they will be choosing, but that will form habits of engagement in their communities that one hopes they will keep for the rest of their lives as active, engaged adults. The gap year provides an opportunity for young people to figure out what they like to do and often what they do not want to do. When young people go out into the world and start becoming powerful agents of change in their communities, those experiences make a big difference.

    There is also the military reserve-style model, in which civic service would engage young people for a weekend a month during the summer over a number of years. That allows for training, framework and accessibility to a pool of young people who could be called into action with the training they receive. Service organizations can target inner cities, rural areas and small towns. They could target the far north and aboriginal reserves. We could be offering to young Canadians the opportunity to serve in many different ways, including overseas service. The engagement that our young Canadians can have, faced with this globalized world, is significant, and we need to look at ways in which national youth service would also encourage overseas service.

    This motion has as its object the beginning of a dialogue and the beginning of a formal conversation here in Parliament about what we need our young people to grow up to be and what we hope the adult citizens they will become will hold dear as Canadian values and responsibilities.

    How we reach out to our young people and provide them with opportunities to be relevant is extraordinarily important. We cannot just sit back and hope that one day they will feel like volunteering unless we demonstrate to them that we are willing to invest in them to provide them with opportunities to serve.

    Every single person who sits in the House of Commons and has the honour of being here knows the value of service.

    All of us here in the House understand the importance of service and of serving one’s country. We are all extremely lucky to be here, lucky that people encouraged us and made us understand that it is important to be involved and to be present.

    I deeply hope that this measure will allow more young people to understand the responsibilities of service and the extraordinary satisfaction that comes with being able to serve.

    Oftentimes we say we want our young people to be our leaders of tomorrow. That means nothing unless we give them the tools to be leaders today. If we reach out to our young people right now and provide them with the tools to make a difference, Mr. Speaker, I ask you and everyone in this House to imagine the kind of Canada we would be building together.