York student wins CBC’s Next Great Prime Minister contest

Joseph Lavoie, a political science major at York University’s Glendon College, has won the CBC’s nation-wide search for "The Next Great Prime Minister."

"The Next Great Prime Minister" contest, judged by four former Canadian prime ministers, netted Lavoie $50,000 and a six-month internship with the contest’s sponsors: Magna International, the Dominion Institute and the Canada-US-Fulbright Program.

Left: Joseph Lavoie flanked by former prime ministers Joe Clark, far left, and Brian Mulroney, two of four contest judges

"I’ve been a political junkie for a long time," says Lavoie (see YFile March 8). "But the vision I presented on the show originated from a Glendon course in municipal politics. What I learned there allowed me to formulate a policy about our cities and the need to grant them more autonomy."

The competition called on young Canadians to show how they, as prime minister, would make Canada a better, stronger and more prosperous nation. The judges combed videotaped submissions for original ideas and effective delivery. They selected four top candidates to participate in a televised debate, aired last night on CBC and hosted by comedian Rick Mercer. The live studio audience voted in Lavoie’s favour.

The judges – Kim Campbell, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney – were impressed with Lavoie’s focus on structural changes to municipal government that would create direct accountability to citizens.

What did Lavoie propose for improving Canada? In his videotaped submission, he said Canada’s constitution, drafted 140 years ago for a predominantly rural population, no longer represents the country’s reality. He argued for more autonomy for cities and more power to implement policies that serve their unique needs. Rural Canadians would also thrive in a system where provincial governments are not monopolized by city demands, he argued.

"Cities would have the necessary tools to participate successfully in a highly competitive global market," concluded Lavoie. "With these changes in Canada, we can re-energize our country, usher in an era of economic prosperity, and be a model for the rest of the world."

The child of a military family from Quebec, Lavoie has lived in many parts of the country. He first discovered the contest at his high-school guidance office in Barrie. "I have been following this competition from its inception, when submissions were only on paper," he said. "But this is the first time I had the courage to participate. Now that it is a televised program, the debate has become a really gruelling experience."

Lavoie likes sharing his political opinions. His essays and opinions appear on his personal blog, dubbed Pleasantly Right Joseph Lavoie, where his obsession with politics is evident.

After graduating in August, the bilingual Lavoie will tackle the trio of internships that are part of his prize, with the goal of a career in public policy or public relations. Says Lavoie, "Ideally, I hope to end up on the Hill as an MP and, who knows, perhaps even as prime minister – but that’s a long way off."