Mike Taylor: Five reasons why the stakes are high for young Canadians in this election

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      By Michael Taylor

      Are you between the ages of 18 and 35 and might not vote in this election?

      Give me five minutes and I will give you five reasons why this election is not some far-removed event with little impact on your life, but rather an outcome that will affect your finances, and our generation's shared interests and values.

      It is ironic just how few of us show up to the polls. Sure many of us do care, and yes, there has been increased attention paid to particular issues on social media, but on the whole, politics is not considered cool or a priority for young Canadians.

      But explain to me this: how can paying over 40 percent of your income on rent or a mortgage be cool, when there are steps the government could take to make housing more affordable? It has taken the prime minister nine years to acknowledge the housing problem, and make the largely inconsequential campaign promise to collect data on Vancouver’s housing market.

      Or take the environment—an issue deeply important to our generation. The vast majority of us believe in protecting the environment while growing the economy, and yet our government’s environmental record is a failure. As one example, we ranked dead last of 27 wealthy nations on environmental protection in a global report in 2013.

      So tell me how not voting or participating in the political process is working for young Canadians? Across the board, the government has done little to address the issues that concern us most.

      Student debt, housing affordability, child care, cost of living, food prices, availability of jobs for young people, and environmental protection have continued to worsen over the past 10 years.

      So whether you have taken the time to realize it or not, the stakes are high for young Canadians in this election, and here are the five reasons why:

      1. Affordability

      Of all the issues that matter to young Canadians in this election, affordability tops the list. Not surprising considering the steady rise in housing, living costs, postsecondary tuition, and child care. Yet despite these real and hard-felt economic consequences, the financial challenges of young Canadians is rarely discussed by political leaders in Ottawa.

      We ourselves have failed to fully comprehend the financial squeeze we face. Spending a growing percentage of our income on housing, putting little to no money into savings, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and creeping further and further into personal debt have become the norm. But no need to worry we are told because, “You’re richer than you think.”

      Here are some of the key facts:

      Youth unemployment is at 13.1 percent—double the national average.

      • The average student debt is $27,000.

      • Vancouver’s housing market is the 2nd most unaffordable in the world.

      • Household debt is at record levels.

      • Parents can expect to pay about $1,200 a month for full-day toddler child care in Vancouver.

      • The average income of the wealthiest 10 percent has grown by 42 percent, and the net worth of the poorest 10 percent has shrunk by 150 percent since 2005.

      For most of us, this current economic picture is all we have known in our adult lives, and we have yet to realize that government economic policies can positively shape our financial reality. 

      Government can develop economic plans and strategies that create more jobs for young Canadians. It can increase subsidies for postsecondary education to reduce tuition fees, as well as lower or end interest on student loans.

      It can implement targeted taxes, regulations, and subsidies to balance and cool off house prices, and to make the market more affordable for those entering it. And it can raise the minimum wage, take steps to reduce child care costs, and introduce a tax plan that places less of a burden on middle to low-income earners, and makes the wealthiest Canadians pay more in taxes.

      2. The Environment

      For those who attended public school in the 1990s and 2000s, environmental education made up a meaningful part of the elementary and secondary experience–deeply engraining the value and importance of nature, conservation, and sustainability.

      For most young Canadians, the debate over meeting our international climate commitments is not a debate at all. Overwhelmingly we believe that we can take positive action on climate change and grow the economy.

      Over the past decade, however, this conviction has not been reflected by our government, which has weakened or repealed 70 environmental laws.

      Not long after winning a majority in 2011, the Canadian government became the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases. Today, Canada is set to miss its 2020 Copenhagen Accord emissions-reduction target by 20 percent.

      For many, it feels as though the values and ideals we were taught in school about Canada being a model country and an environmental leader, no longer apply. When it comes to the environment, our generation has high ideals—far greater than our parents. But today, these ideals are a long way from being reached.

      3. Disregard for Democracy

      Last year, when a reporter asked a Canadian Fisheries and Oceans scientist for an interview regarding her expertise on algae, the request was denied. Following an access to information request, it was uncovered that this one interview request resulted in 110 pages of emails between 16 government officials.

      Why all the trouble? Well, it turns out algae growth is linked to climate change, and that the government has made a concerted effort to red flag and suppress environmental information that could negatively impact the oil and gas sector.

      In 2013, the union that represents Canadian scientists found that hundreds of its members had been instructed by the government to modify or remove findings in government documents for nonscientific reasons, and thousands have been prevented from responding to the public or media.

      As Maclean’s magazine put it, “the efforts to silence scientists verge into the Orwellian.” This shameless disregard for free speech and democracy is just one example in a list that runs long.

      The so-called Fair Elections Act, said to tackle the nonissue of voter fraud, will leave some students and aboriginals unable to vote because they lack the now required identification to prove their residency. In reality, “the main challenge,” chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand says, “is not voter fraud, but voter participation.”

      Instead of making it easier for young people to participate in our democracy, the Conservatives have deliberately put-up roadblocks to improve their chances on Election Day.

      4. Our Canadian Values: At Home and Abroad

      It has been said that the Canada of today speaks with a different voice in the world. On the international stage, we are no longer seen as leaders in peacekeeping, foreign aid, and climate change­.

      Hardline stances on international conflicts, walking out on global treaties, and reduced peacekeeping and foreign aid budgets have weakened our reputation and standing as a moral leader and honest broker. This shift was no more apparent than in 2010, when Canada lost its seat on the United Nations Security Council—the first time in 50 years.

      Even the New York Times and Britain’s leading newspaper, the Guardian, have weighed in on the election and criticized Canada’s foreign policy. As the Guardian editorial put it, “The October elections offer Canada a chance to return to the country’s best traditions… the special role it used to play on the international scene.”

      At home, our commitment to the rule of law, social justice, and social spending has greatly diminished. Funding of social programs for First Nations, women’s and social justice groups, and veterans continue to be slashed.

      Just this summer the United Nations human rights committee released a scathing report on Canada’s human rights record. In it, the government’s response to the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women was characterized as “inadequate”.

      The report also added the United Nations to the growing list of organizations and people that have called upon the government to launch a national inquiry following last year's RCMP report, which documented 1,181 cases of missing or murdered indigenous girls and women from 1980 to 2012.

      But, this was not the only human rights issue addressed in the report, as the UN raised concerns about the antiterrorism bill, C-51, arguing that it fails to protect civil liberties, and gives undue powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to conduct “mass surveillance and targeting activities”.

      5. Voting earns you a seat at the decision-making table

      There is a reason why baby boomers and seniors vote. They understand that voting earns them a seat at the public policy table, and holds politicians accountable to their interests if they want to get reelected.

      Take for example, Canada’s much-debated housing sector. In spite of repeated warnings by the International Monetary Fund and others about rising house prices and household debt, the government has refused to intervene to keep prices in check.

      When it comes down to it, the simple reason is; the government is protecting the interests of its voter base­—baby boomers and seniors, most of whom continue to benefit from a rise in home equity.

      Clearly it is not fair for older Canadians sitting on million-dollar properties to be given priority over cash-strapped young Canadians looking to buy a house and start a family. But, the unfortunate reality is that we are not considered serious stakeholders because so few of us vote and engage in the political process.

      Last election, less than 40 percent of 18-35 year-olds voted. Yet, political analysts say we would have elected a different government had that number been 60 percent.

      This is because we vote more progressively than our older counterparts, and at one-quarter of the Canadian population, we have the political power to decide the outcome of an election and transform the Canadian political landscape.

      So in the words of Rick Mercer: “If you’re between the ages of 18 and [35] and want to scare the hell of the people that run this country, this time around do the unexpected. Take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people all around the world are dying to do… Vote.” 

      Michael Taylor is a writer and teacher in Vancouver.