These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
When David He tells stories about climate impacts, the prime minister and other senior government officials pay attention.
This 20-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., led the Prime Minister's Youth Council from 2021 to 2023 and served as an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) delegate to advocate for inclusive pandemic recovery policies. He is also a Canadian delegate to the 2023 G20 Youth Summit.
Tell us about your work on the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.
The 26 members advise senior federal government officials on issues of concern to young people. We come from all regions and reflect a range of educational, employment and life experiences.
During our term, we joined others to successfully press the government to end conversion therapy and prioritize the concerns of LGBTQ2S people. Our top concern has been the need for a fair and rapid transition to a low-carbon future.
What has been your personal contribution?
When David He tells stories about climate impacts, the prime minister and other senior government officials pay attention. #YouthClimateAction
I helped shift the council to engage more with youth in other countries. For me, the most significant meeting was not with a cabinet minister or even the prime minister, although those were fulfilling, but with the Danish Youth Council because we learned how much more influence they have than we do. I hope future councils will work in this direction.
How did you get involved?
I was bullied in elementary school and by Grade 8, was mostly disengaged. But one of my teachers, Mr. Exume, told us he had just lost his sister in the terrible Haitian earthquake. His story hit me hard as I too have a sister and it sparked a desire in me to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. My life changed when he said social change requires us to start by changing within, and this often means looking outside ourselves for what work needs to be done.
I started learning about global injustice, but there was no club at the school to talk with other young people. With my teacher’s help, I started the Global Spotlight, which has now spread to many other Canadian schools and even to some other countries.
I jumped at the opportunity to attend Pearson College, where I met other young people on the front lines of the climate crisis. It seemed a natural step for me to apply to be on the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.
How did the way you were raised contribute?
My mother was born to a very low-income family in an isolated village in China. She believed she could better herself and would “borrow” the lights from neighbours’ houses to do her homework. We didn’t have much, but we were always taught the values of hard work and standing up for our beliefs.
I went to Beijing when I was a child and kept asking why the water was green or grey and why my lungs hurt when I went outside. I learned that beautiful British Columbia will not necessarily stay that way. We have to take care of it.
The winter of 2021 was a difficult time for my family. With the extreme temperatures and flooding, we lost everything when the pipes in our home burst. As I stood outside in the freezing weather in my pyjamas, a neighbour gave me a blanket and a hot drink. I will never forget the kindness and support of our neighbours and community, which helped us get back on our feet.
Reflecting on that experience, I'm reminded how lucky we were to have access to the resources and support we needed. I know that not everyone is so fortunate. Climate change is impacting vulnerable communities around the world that don't always have access to that level of support and resources.
That's why I'm committed to doing everything in my power to protect our climate and help those who are most affected. It's going to take all of us working together to create a more just and sustainable future.
What makes your work hard?
Youth do not have the influence we should. It is our future.
What gives you hope?
As a young person of colour from a low-income immigrant family, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to represent Canada on the world stage — especially at just 20 years old. Being part of these conversations with other young activists around the world brings me hope for a better future.
You are also a DJ. Tell us about that interest.
DJing is my passion because music allows us to celebrate our diversity while we find common ground.
What would you like to say to other young people?
Starting out on the council was a bit overwhelming, but I learned that you don't need to have all the answers right away. Just dive in, seek advice when needed, and know that you're not alone. And remember, while having the right facts and figures is important, stories can be even more effective at capturing people's attention and driving change.
What about older readers?
So many other older people have helped me. Your support, advice, and mentorship can be transformative and can help young people reach their full potential.