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Prince Charles rallies top level support for his Canadian causes

When Prince Charles and his wife Camilla arrive in New Brunswick on Sunday, they'll be greeted by all the pomp and ceremony that typically accompanies a royal tour, from the 21-gun salute to the hoisting of the monarch-in-waiting's personal flag.

But this trip, the Prince's 18th visit to Canada, promises to be different. Between lavish dinners and a sit-down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Charles will learn to spin records at an arts school targeting immigrant youth and chat with former addicts at Toronto's Yonge Street Mission.

The stops are part of a tour designed to highlight his growing charitable efforts in Canada, which focus on providing business opportunities to those at a disadvantage, from transitioning soldiers to inner-city youth. They come at a time when many non-profits are being squeezed by limited funds and a growing demand for their services.

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In 2010, Charles set up Prince's Charities Canada, a registered charity aimed at wielding his influence in pursuit of a greater good. It's the only office of its kind outside the U.K., though its president says similar venues could be set up elsewhere in the Commonwealth in the coming years.

The organization – which runs on a budget of about $200,000 a year – doesn't hand out money. Instead, it sees itself as a convener, helping to connect the Canadian charities Charles supports with new opportunities for growth.

"One of the things the Prince is very concerned about is not giving people a handout. It's finding ways to give people a hand up," said Prince's Charities Canada president Amanda Sherrington.

Last January, the charity arranged a Seeing is Believing tour in Toronto, an initiative that connects top business executives with street-affected youth. Charles wasn't available for an interview (the Royal Family has a policy against taking questions from the media), but those in charge of his charitable activities in Canada and the U.K. say he's a hands-on leader who demonstrates a passion for the causes he works on.

While charity isn't new to monarchs and their families, Charles has approached the work differently.

"He made a decision along the way when it dawned on him that he was going to have a long wait before he was going to be king," said royal biographer Sally Beddell Smith. "And he set out pretty deliberately to try to make the role of the Prince of Wales not just something to occupy himself while he waited for the 'real job,' but he decided to try to make [it]something substantive on its own."

As a result, Charles has become more personally involved in the charitable endeavours he supports, she said. His philanthropic interests span a broad range of topics, from education and young people to environmental sustainability and responsible business. Not all of his choices are popular, however. He's been a long-time advocate for alternative medicine, including remedies of dubious medical merit. And he's argued for a shift away from conventional economic growth models – a philosophy that's garnered another set of critics.

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But no one doubts the Prince's sincerity. "I think he has a real desire to help," Ms. Sherrington said. "Let's try to understand what the problems are, go in deep, and see if we can find a way to fix them collectively."


The Royal Conservatory of Music's Learning Through the Arts has so impressed Prince Charles that the organization will begin working with his Foundation for Children and the Arts to train teachers and artists to deliver the made-in-Canada, arts-based education approach to schools across the U.K. this fall.

The program uses specially trained musicians, actors, dancers and visual artists to help teach subjects such as math and science in novel ways – including multiplication through songwriting or history through role-playing.

"It's all about children and teachers being fully engaged in their learning," said the conservatory's Angela Elster, adding the program has improved discipline and school attendance and helped students score higher on their exams.

It's already been adopted in thousands of elementary and secondary school classrooms across Canada, including some specially targeted to aboriginal communities in northern Alberta.

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In 1985, Prince Charles took a group of business leaders through the streets of Halifax, West Yorkshire, a hamlet that had just lost one of its biggest factories.

Inspired by a visit to a former cotton-milling town in Massachusetts, Charles hoped the face-to-face contact with the community would spur executives to consider new investments aimed at both economic and social revitalization. The initiative, formalized in 1990 as the Prince's Seeing is Believing program, has taken some 8,000 executives on similar trips.

In January, the Prince's Charities Canada introduced the program to Toronto, bringing a group that included retail maven Hilary Weston to two youth-focused organizations in the city's downtown core. After spending the day chatting with youth and learning about the barriers they face, the executives were asked to brainstorm ways to help.

A few are already acting. The Printing House Ltd., offered a paid internship to a former drug dealer that one of its executives met at the Yonge Street Mission, and John Honderich of Torstar became an ad-hoc mentor for Moses Reid, 19, who's lived alone for the past four years and plans to be a physicist.

Weston Bakeries' vice-president of advertising contracted two paid projects from students at U for Change, a part-time arts program geared at getting young people into higher education and jobs in the creative sector. Alejandra Pacheco said the project will help boost her portfolio before she goes to Humber College in the fall to study film and TV production.

"It pays to invest in these kinds of programs, because they're helping a lot of youth," she said.

When Charles is in Toronto on Tuesday, he'll hold a sit-down with the executives and ask them to report back on what they've done so far – and detail the next steps they're planning to take.

Barry Avrich, chief executive of Endeavour Marketing, plans to run a series of master classes at U for Change this fall helping young people market themselves as they look for jobs.

"When someone calls and they say they're doing work on behalf of the Prince, yeah, of course you're going to take note," he said.


It was a diligently restored 18th-century home in Fredericton that won Prince Charles over. On a tour of the property in 1996, he asked the Heritage Canada Foundation what he could do to promote the conservation of historic places.

The non-profit foundation created the annual Prince of Wales Prize for Municipal Heritage Leadership. There's no cash incentive, but winners receive bragging rights, a plaque, a flag for the city or town hall, and a letter from Charles commending their work.

"There's a prestige associated with it," said Carolyn Quinn, from Heritage Canada Foundation. "And it kind of sets a bar for incoming councils."

Past winners include Peterborough, Ont., Quebec City, Edmonton and Victoria. This year's winner will be announced in the fall.


When a medical officer told Steve Hebert he'd have to stop flying, the 42-year-old air combat operations officer was initially crestfallen – and then he started planning his next moves.

He'd known the decision was coming: A helicopter crash nine years ago had left him with three herniated discs – a problem which flared up on a 2007 trip to Afghanistan, making it difficult to walk and leaving him reeling in pain.

Two weeks ago, after years of attempts to treat him, the Canadian Forces recommended he be released.

"They can't fix me, so they're basically going to be letting me go," Mr. Hebert said. "That's why I had to come up with a business idea."

He'd completed a masters degree in disaster and emergency management and a week-long free boot camp at Newfoundland's Memorial University. The camp, called Based in Business, pairs select students from Memorial with transitioning soldiers to bring them up to speed on accounting, human resources management and the latest marketing techniques.

Mr. Hebert says the students taught him skills it would have taken a year or more to master on his own. "I think it's fantastic," he said. "It was unbelievably useful, and when I got back I started telling everyone I knew about it."

His new business, Nordem, helps municipalities and businesses with emergency planning and has already completed a contract with a small town in Yukon.

This year, the Prince's Charities Canada will help ramp up the Memorial program, pairing it with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, an affiliate of another youth business organization established by Prince Charles in the U.K.

That means Canadian Forces entrepreneurs who are accepted into the new program, called the Prince's Operation Entrepreneur, will have access to seed money, specialized mentoring and ongoing support – in addition to the week-long boot camp.

"I'm going to do what I can to stay with them," Mr. Hebert said, "and maybe even mentor the next generation of people going through from the military."

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Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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