Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, was on the prowl earlier this week on Bay Street to give a keynote address to the Canadian Club on the "Changing Demographics of Canada". With the Tories having enraged older Canadians with their surprise Old Age Security ("OAS") reforms, Finley was dispatched from Ottawa to lecture young people about how they're going to need to save more for retirement and to engage in some divisive intergenerational fracturing.
Finley told the audience that "Any necessary changes will be made with a substantial notice period, allowing plenty of time for Canadians — some of you here today — to adjust your retirement planning accordingly and prepare for the future." Now, that sounds all quite reasonable on first blush, but what's beneath Finley's remarks and do young Canadians even have the tools to save more for retirement? I would suggest that they don't and I've jotted down a few concerns below about the overall approach taken by Steven Harper's government towards young people.
The Tories have pursued a course of action that directly attacks any notion of intergenerational equity through inaction on youth unemployment, backing public and private sector employers who propose discriminatory orphan clauses, the targeting of racialized youth through unnecessary crime legislation, by failing to address surging income inequality either through taxation reforms or altering monetary policy, and via proposing austerity measures that will push tens of thousands of young Canadians into unemployment.
Finley has yet to lift a finger to address surging youth unemployment in Canada, but she did have time last fall to berate young Canadians by casting them as a "demoralized" group who have "chosen never to get a job". Despite the shiny Jonestownesqe television ads touting "Canada's Economic Action Plan" the reality on the ground is that the economy is deteriorating rather than getting better for young Canadians. Many young graduates either can't find work or end up in dead-end jobs in the service or retail sectors. Good jobs that provide benefits, pensions, and secure career paths are being replaced by precarious contingent, part-time, or temporary positions devoid of any sense of security or a future.
Now it's all well and good for Finley to tell young people to save more for retirement, but it rings hollow when one considers stagnating wages, surging student debt, historically low interest rates, and unaffordable housing in major urban centres. The vast majority of young Canadians in their 20s and 30s simply don't possess the means to save for retirement. Finley isn't presenting any solutions, it's pure spin and sound-bites devoid of content, though, or long-term strategy.
Finley's maneuver strikes me as simple demagoguery awash in the banality of Canada's political class, a group that has been characteristically unresponsive to the needs of young people throughout the past three decades (see attacking youth is a sport of both the Left and Right in Canada). The policy blunders of the past (increasing tuition fees, free trade, hollowing out the middle class, dismantling labour market regulation) are now bearing fruit through depressed birthrates, increased rates of mental illness in young people, young men adrift with no hope, and a real youth unemployment rate that's topping 20%.
While I see some glimmers of hope in the current environment, a more likely future for Canadian youth played out of streets of Vancouver and London last summer through rioting and the subsequent repression. Unless changes are implemented that address intergenerational equity in a meaningful fashion young people will increasingly be standing in the shadow of the future with no hope for brighter days amid unending alienation. I don't want to live in that future Canada, as the old refrain goes: I want change. To do this we need actual reforms that address pressing economic issues important to young Canadian. In closing I'll leave you with a recent clip of Finley failing to address a question about the surging youth unemployment rate in Canada, check it out: