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Ontario's youth given voice at the table on environmental matters

'Just because you can’t vote and cast a ballot for politicians, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a say,' environment minister says during announcement in Barrie

Ontario's youth have a new way to fight for their environment’s future.

The province has announced the creation of the new Ontario Youth Environment Council to provide Grade 9-12 students better ways to share their ideas and insights on key environmental issues, such as growing the parks footprint, reducing greenhouse gases and tackling climate change.

“Just because you can’t vote and cast a ballot for politicians, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a say,” David Piccini, Ontario’s new minister of the environment, conservation and parks, said early Wednesday afternoon while making the announcement at Barrie’s Shalom Park in the city's south end.

“This council is by and for the youth of tomorrow," he added. 

Earlier this morning, approximately 50 youths had taken bags of garbage from nearby Lovers Creek and piled it near a parks receptacle to be picked up later that day by the city.

“We have many volunteers here who came to clean up the park,” said Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin. “We all love to be outside in nature… but have experienced there is a lot of litter.”

The province is also encouraging Waste-Free Wednesdays throughout the summertime when Ontarians can get outside and clean up litter in their community, while following public health measures.

Khanjin noted the average Ontario resident generates one tonne of waste annually and much of it makes its way into our waterways and green spaces, harming both wildlife and the health of humans. And what ends up in landfills also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

“You are never too young to make a difference,” she said of clean-up efforts.

Piccini said that’s where the Ontario Youth Environment Council can help.

“We’ll meet to discuss solutions,” he said, with members of the I Love Lake Simcoe youth group standing behind him at the park o Shalom Way. “You’ve got a place on this council.”

“It’s an important and timely step in the right direction,” said Justine Mackay, president of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, of the new council.

Piccini, the youngest environment minister in Ontario’s history, says the council will ensure the next generation of Ontarians is at the table when solutions are sought to the most pressing environmental issues, which include conservation, protecting the environment and preparing for the impacts of climate change.

Members of the youth council will meet monthly from September until April to hear from expert guest speakers, discuss a range of environmental and climate change issues and provide input on potential solutions to ministry officials, including Piccini.

Eligible youth can apply to be members of the consultation group by completing an application form on by Aug. 4, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Candidates must be in Grades 9-12 now, or as of the 2021 fall school year, and should have a passion for the environment, an understanding of key climate-related issues and solutions in their regions, and work or volunteer experience with activities related to climate change and the environment.

The ministry is collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders connected with youth to ensure it has applicants with diverse interests. Applicants from across the province, including Indigenous communities, are encouraged to apply.

Members of the Ontario Youth Environment Council will be announced later this summer.