What makes Justin Trudeau run? For there's little doubt that at We Day in Toronto, Mr. Trudeau will run to the podium and will be inspiring.
It's all about leadership, the Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Papineau says. Youth leadership, to be exact.
“I'll be delivering a version of my speech about youth empowerment,” Mr. Trudeau explains.
“I'll tell them that young people aren't just the leaders of tomorrow, they're the leaders of today. Their voices matter … the things they do now can have a tremendous impact to change the world, right now.”
Officially, Mr. Trudeau will be on stage to introduce actor Martin Sheen (who played U.S. President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing) – a potential Canadian leader setting the scene for a fictional American one.
But Mr. Trudeau sees his own participation as more significant. He and We Day are made for each other – both are dedicated to connecting young people to active citizenship and to inspiring youth to get involved in good causes, whether they're local or global.
“My own involvement started in 2008,” he says. “But I've been enthusiastic about what Craig and Marc Kielburger [founders of Free the Children] have been doing from the beginning.”
Mr. Trudeau said he loves pitching in, along with his wife, Sophie Grégoire, who hosted We Day Montreal on Feb. 29.
Their involvement in good causes is wide-ranging – from Ms. Grégoire working with sufferers of bulimia and family violence to Mr. Trudeau punching the daylights out of Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau last March to raise money for cancer research.
Mr. Trudeau also worked hard to support Katimavik, the federal youth program started when his father was prime minister which was recently killed by Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Mr. Trudeau laments the program's demise, adding that it's important for young people to find creative new ways to volunteer.
“My message is that everyone has to realize how important they are,” he explains.
“Young people say it's hard, I know. I say to them: You start small, organize a group of friends, pick a project, maybe in your local area.” It doesn't matter if the help you give to others is a success or failure, he says.
“If you fail, ask yourself some questions – what went wrong? What can we do better next time? Often you can learn more from something that fails than from a success.”
No matter what the result is, take what you've learned and move onto a bigger project, Mr. Trudeau adds.
He says young people continually need to hear inspiring words because when you're young you tend to doubt your own power and ability to make the world change.
“When you stand out in front of those seas of young people, you're tempted to tell them, ‘You're the leaders of tomorrow.'” But that's a false cliché, he believes.
“It's too conditional – you know, if you get good grades, work hard, you can be a leader some day. No, I say, you can be leaders today. The things you do right now can have a tremendous impact on the world.”
He says the young people he meets and speaks with today “are more aware, more plugged in, but instead of feeling empowered they get overwhelmed.” What he wants them to know is “how important they are as consumers, as friends, in their peer groups, in their activism.”
“Their voices matter – we're facing a time in the world where we do have to rethink some of the habits that got us into this situation.”
One of the fringe benefits of taking the stage in front of 20,000 enthusiastic young people (and a huge TV audience) is the energy that comes from the crowd, Mr. Trudeau says.
“They inspire us.” It gives him “such a rush” to see them respond to the message that they need to get involved to help other people.
“That's the big secret of service of any type – the more you give, the more you get. Those of us who get to do it on a larger scale than others are blessed when we get to feel the connection.”
Mr. Trudeau agrees that something else gives him an affinity with the Kielburgers and their work – both he and Craig Kielburger, who became famous as an adolescent activist, have been in the spotlight across Canada since well before their voices broke.
“It's just something that you take as a responsibility. We have to be aware and try to be worthy of that extra trust and attention.”
Editor's note: this is a corrected version of the story.