OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraced his role as minister for youth as he urged a gathering of young people from every country in the world to act now, instead of waiting for some distant moment, to be the leaders they want to become.
"I do not think you are the leaders of tomorrow — I know you are already leaders today," Trudeau, 44, said Wednesday evening at the opening ceremonies of the One Young World Summit, where many of the young people in the audience wore traditional dress and carried their national flags for the evening event on the lawn of Parliament Hill.
The global forum for youth leaders taking place in Ottawa this week is hosting some 1,300 delegates between the ages of 18 and 30 from 196 different countries.
"Your generation is politically engaged, educated, innovative, inclusive and progressive. You need to harness that potential to make the world a better place and I know that every person here tonight is committed to doing just that in one way or another," Trudeau told the crowd.
Justin Trudeau speaks during the One Young World summit on Parliament Hill on Wednesday. (Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
"Please remember, what you say, and the choices you make, have the power to change the world," he said.
The star-studded conference will feature speakers and guests such as former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson — who was the first female president of Ireland — and Bob Geldof, a musician and international anti-poverty activist, participating in debates and panels on everything from climate change to peace and security.
Even Cher, the singer and Oscar-winning actor, will make an appearance to launch a campaign to end the mistreatment of wild animals in captivity.
Another celebrity guest is U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, a British actor best known for her role in the Harry Potter movies, who Trudeau welcomed to his office earlier Wednesday for a discussion mainly about gender equality.
"Please remember, what you say, and the choices you make, have the power to change the world."
Trudeau was 43 when his Liberal government came to power last year, making him the second-youngest person elected prime minister in Canadian history.
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, however, was not far behind, elected in 2006 at the age of 46.
Kate Robertson, co-founder of One Young World, nonetheless said the fact that Trudeau is so relatively young is one of the reasons the global leadership forum chose Ottawa as the location for its seventh summit, which has previously taken place in cities such as London, Johannesburg and Bangkok.
"I think what you've seen in this very young prime minister is determination to have gender equality in his top ministers, in his cabinet ... a determination to follow a reconciliation process with First Peoples, and many of the things that we know this age group of leaders is expecting to see," Robertson said at a news conference at the summit Wednesday afternoon.
"There is someone who is a bit outside their age group, but is already on the move, making the changes we know that young leaders want to themselves lead in their various countries," she said.
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