TORONTO -- Ontario has announced the creation of an “advisory group” that will specifically look into the social and economic barriers young people experience on a day-to-day basis in areas such as education, skills training and employment.

The new Council on Equality of Opportunity will be made of up to 20 people and will include youth between the ages of 18 and 29. Other members will include adults “with expertise from community organizations, not-for-profit businesses, education, and government services.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement on Thursday afternoon at Queen’s Park, alongside Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities Jamil Jivani, who will be chairing the council.

“Through this council we will bring together a diverse group of leaders, experts and youth members who will offer the insights to our government that we need to make the impact that communities need and deserve,” Jivani said.

The council will also identify strategies to support vulnerable and marginalized youth suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and report back to the premier’s office.

Both Jivani and Ford acknowledged that the council was being created at a time in which racial and social inequality is being featured predominantly in the news, and stressed that the group was not being launched in light of it.

Numerous protests have been held across the United States and Canada following the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.

“Black communities in our province, including my family, friends, neighbours, the congregation I attend church with and many more are saddened and outraged by what has transpired in the United States. In part because what is happening south of the border is drawing attention to racism and racial inequalities within our own nation,” Jivani said. “This pain has not gone unnoticed.”

“We did not start paying attention to these issues because of the current news cycle. Rather we’ve been working on these issues for months because it is the right thing to do.”

Ford, for his part, started the announcement by saying Ontario youth are facing “the hardest issues, the most difficult topics” and the Council on Equality of Opportunity is meant to help give them the “opportunity to reach their full potential.”

“There is a lot of pain in Canada, the U.S. and around the world. We must acknowledge this pain and where it’s coming from,” he said. “It starts with our next generation, it starts with equipping them with the tools they need.”

“The council will bring together experts and young people with lived experiences from different backgrounds and walks of life, young people from marginalized communities – together they will tackle the barriers our young people face.”

The Progressive Conservative government also said that it will be allocating $1.5 million to organizations that support Black families and youth for “urgent COVID-19 supports.”

Ontario’s New Democratic Party called the funding “a slap in the face to Black communities,” citing a number of cuts the Ford government has made since being elected in 2018, including $2 million in funding from the Anti-Racism Directorate, $14 million from a cultural community hub in Lawrence Heights, and $25 million in education funding dedicated to providing supports for Black, Indigenous and racialized students.

“Communities that are hurting from years of systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism don’t need a watered down committee,” said Laura Mae Lindo, Chair of the Official Opposition NDP’s Black Caucus and Official Opposition Critic for Anti-Racism.

“We don’t need ‘advice’ on how to overcome barriers. We need change in the system to tear down those barriers, and stamp out systemic racism. We need a government that will actually fund that critical work, instead of cutting it to the bone, and then throwing us some loose change.”

The announcement also comes one day Ford was forced to backpedal comments he made claiming that Canada doesn't have the same “systemic, deep roots” of racism as the United States.

Young people can apply to be a member of the Council on Equality of Opportunity through the government website.