The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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International Year of Youth - Youth Dialogue

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Youth Dialogue on the Occasion of the International Year of Youth

Rideau Hall, Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How are you?

What a wonderful way to celebrate together the United Nations’ International Year of Youth and to launch it with young voices joined together, singing a stirring Algonquin song that honours the first peoples, the guardians of this sacred land for millennia. 

Thank you very much for that song.

Let me begin by telling you how happy I am to welcome you to Rideau Hall, your house, the house of every Canadian, and how deeply touched I am to see how many of you answered my invitation.

Over the last five years, I have had the great privilege of traveling across Canada to discover the passion in the hearts of Canadians.

Wherever I went, I discovered countless women and men who are deeply committed to uplifting their communities and improving conditions throughout society.

In truth, it was clear right from the start: Canadians care. We are not indifferent. Compassion is one of our most defining characteristics.

Do you know what I also found striking?

It was discovering how many young people of all backgrounds are renewing, in their own way, that great spirit of altruism and reciprocity that has shaped our civic life for.  

Let us be clear: I found this spirit well and alive, on and off the beaten track.

For I wanted to engage with Canadian youth on their own turf, even if this required visiting some of the so-called “hot spots.” 

This included meeting young Canadians in graffiti galleries, indigenous communities, after school drop-in centres, boys and girls clubs, recording studios, organizations for homeless youth, high schools, universities, and even a prison. Yes, a prison!

Because I believe hope can be in inspired anywhere and that everyone, yes everyone, deserves a second chance.

That is why I want to reach out to young people from all walks of life, and why on two occasions, I chose to spend time with young inmates to talk about social change and personal accountability.

Let me tell you. The glimmer of hope in their eyes filled me with optimism.

For it pointed to the urgent need to bring those who have chosen a life of danger and despair back into our fold. I know that you, engaged youth, can make a difference in this regard!

For wherever I have gone as 27th governor general of Canada, I have been moved by the power of your ideas, by your willingness to take risks and by your capacity to dream and transform what many consider the impossible into a tangible and impactful reality.

In a world that often moulds us into believing that we cannot shape our destiny, your ability to translate words into action shines a beacon of hope into the lives of millions of people across Canada and around the world.

That is why I wanted to validate youth initiatives whenever and wherever I could. 

Having seen you at work, I know that your efforts carry within them the promise of a better society.

And your capacity for innovation and creativity never ceases to astonish me.

I am always amazed, for example, to see how you use arts, culture and new technologies as tools to improve your surroundings, to exchange best practices, and to build new constructive and creative networks.

I know that there are some who—with a hint of condescension—dismiss you as utopians and idealists. Well, take it as a compliment, and turn their accusations on their head.

Why?

Because to underestimate young people, and what you have to offer, is to ignore an undeniable truth: during every revolution and turning point in history, young people have been important agents of change and renewal.

Let’s think about it: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and even the election of the first African American president of the United States.

We need ideals to inspire us.

To help us dream of a better world and to encourage us to take action in our own way. One step at a time.

For every gesture counts.

And every action is important.

So please do not be intimidated by other people’s misconceptions and misgivings.

You are the leaders of today, and it is here and now that we need to listen to your ideas, to hear your perspectives, and to welcome you to the decision-making table.

Your vision is crucial.

Your capacity to think globally and to act locally is vital.

And your ability to be audacious and to break down barriers bodes well for the future of our nation and the future of the world. 

To ignore your efforts and limit your power to act is to deny ourselves of a precious, if not essential, resource.

That is why I am so pleased that this year, I will have the opportunity to join Canadians, across the country, in celebrating your achievements in a spirit of solidarity between generations.

The theme of the International Year of Youth—dialogue and mutual understanding—reminds us that as a society, we need to be vigilant and act on matters that divide us by drawing further strength and inspiration from the goals and aspirations that bring us together.

This is what I wanted to convey when I chose, “Breaking Down Solitudes,” as my motto—a motto that has even more relevance today as the entire world recovers from a major economic crisis that threatens to further polarize and deepen the gulfs between us.

Humanity’s survival is predicated on our willingness to abandon the “everyone for himself or for his clan” mentality and to return to more collective values.

It is time for the world to embrace an ethic of sharing.

And I believe that the United Nations is right on point in this regard.

For who best to turn to for guidance, in this matter, than to young people?

It is for this reason, that as part of my “Can We Talk” series, I decided to launch the International Year of Youth with a Youth Dialogue on ways to make your community more responsive to your needs and better equipped to accommodate your desire to affect change.

This is actually the first of six Youth Dialogues I will be holding across Canada to celebrate the International Year of Youth.

I am particularly looking forward to returning to Point Douglass in Winnipeg, where I will learn how the words young people spoke a forum I held in the area in 2007 inspired the an entire community to take back their neighbourhood from gangs, guns, and drugs. Crime has since dropped to astoundingly low levels. 

I am convinced that the Point Douglas model can produce similar results in other communities across Canada.

Today, however, we are focusing on the national capital region.

I have always believed that our capital must inspire our nation by reflecting the very values that we cherish as a society, all across this country.

Bilingualism, diversity, human, environmental and sustainable development, learning and innovation, social justice, as well as the importance of the arts and culture, to further shape our identity, our  sense of belonging, our citizenship.

I know that you, the youth of the region, are willing to help develop all these values.

For some of you, this is not our first conversation. During several events I have held in the region, I heard your message loud and clear: you want to be part of the solutions, and as committed citizens, you have a lot to offer.

After listening to your concerns and ideas, I sought to find ways to bring key actors in this region to work closely with you.

That is why I am so pleased that we have with us representatives of the National Capital Commission—Mr. Mills, Madame Lemay—as well as other stakeholders.

They are here because they know and believe in what you have to offer.

And I am also pleased to announce that through my new foundation, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which will be headquartered in Ottawa, I will continue supporting your initiatives that are making Canada and the rest of the world a better place.

I have also always believed in the power of dialogue between generations to find viable, sustainable solutions to the most difficult problems.

It is precisely this spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding that the United Nations wants to encourage during this special year dedicated to the power of youth.

So dear friends, now is the time for you to be daring with your ideas. To be audacious with your suggestions.

To be bold about your desire to get involved.

The world is behind you, and key people are listening.

Please seize this moment. The floor is yours!