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Editorial: To move Canada forward, vote for Anyone But the Conservatives

Written by Think Forward Staff
Sunday, 18 October 2015
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Editorial: To move Canada forward, vote for Anyone But the Conservatives
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After four long years of majority Conservative government, Canadian voters will finally get a chance to render their verdict on Stephen Harper and his party. And with turnout at advance polls – many of which were located on college and university campuses – indicating that more Canadian youth will be voting in this year's election than in 2011, it's worth reviewing the Harper Government's record on issues that matter to young people.

Without question, the federal Conservatives have categorically failed to address the immense challenges facing students, recent graduates, and young professionals in Canada. Under the Harper Government, tuition fees and student debt have skyrocketed to all-time highs, putting higher education out of reach for many working and middle class students, and saddling the average graduate with thousands of dollars of student debt.

In terms of jobs, the youth unemployment rate has remained at or near double the rate of the general population, and Conservative policies have done nothing to curtail this problem in the last four years. When graduates do manage to find jobs, they increasingly come in the form of unpaid internships. Instead of enacting legislation to fight this troubling trend, the Harper Government has worsened the problem by hiring hundreds of unpaid interns since 2008, and offering only a handful of those interns permanent, paid employment.

On other key issues – from climate change to electoral reform to online and privacy rights – the federal Conservatives have been consistently out of step with, and have often disregarded, the views of young Canadians. And far from addressing the problem of low voter turnout among youth, the Harper Government has actually made it harder for young people to vote by introducing new ID requirements under its ironically-named “Fair Elections Act.”

By contrast, the NDP, Liberals, and Greens have credible plans for dealing with rising tuition, growing student debt, unpaid internships, and high youth joblessness, among other major issues. These parties seem to understand that, with tuition rates at an all-time high across the country, and Canadian youth almost twice as likely to be unemployed as older citizens, many young people are worried about their future for a number of reasons.  

On tuition fees and student debt, the New Democratic Party has committed to making student loans interest-free and has promised to work with the provinces to reduce tuition fees going forward. The Liberal Party would increase the maximum Canada Student Grant for low-income students to $3,000 a year for full-time students and $1,800 for part-timers. The Liberals have also stated that they would halt student debt repayments until graduates are earning at least $25,000 a year, and provide an additional $50 million a year to support indigenous post-secondary students. For their part, the Greens plan to abolish tuition fees for post-secondary education and skills training by the year 2020, and eliminate any existing or future student debt above $10,000.

When it comes to unpaid internships, the New Democrats have said that they would regulate internships to ensure that interns enjoy the same health and safety protections as other workers, and limit the use of unpaid internships to prevent the exploitation of young workers. The Liberal and Green Party platforms do not contain any language regarding unpaid interns. However, in a recent interview with Think Forward, Green Party Deputy Leader Bruce Hyer said "the federal government should amend the Canada Labour Code to ban unpaid internships where (it) has jurisdiction" because "exploitative work is unacceptable." And former Liberal leader Stephane Dion indicated his party would potentially be open to regulating unpaid internships, noting that we need to "prohibit the type of abuse that we are seeing now."

With respect to job creation, the NDP has promised to create over 40,000 jobs, paid internships, and coop placements over the next four years, in an effort to combat high youth unemployment and underemployment. The Liberals, meanwhile, are offering to invest $1.3 billion over three years to create thousands of jobs for youth through a renewed Youth Employment Strategy, and waive unemployment premiums for 12 months for any employer that gives a young person between 18 and 24 a full-time job. And the Green Party says it will create a national Community and Environment Service Corps that will provide $1 billion annually to municipalities for hiring Canadian youth.

All three major opposition parties have promised to take aggressive action on climate change, and all three parties are committed to reforming our voting system to ensure that it is fairer and more representative of voters' wishes. On privacy rights, both the NDP and Green Party voted to oppose the Harper Government's dangerous and intrusive Bill C-51, while the Liberals say they are committed to repealing aspects of the bill if they form government. Compared to the Conservatives' record of inaction and dearth of campaign promises, all three opposition parties are offering decidedly better visions for young people.

To be sure, neither an NDP, Liberal, or Green Party government would serve as a panacea to the difficulties that young Canadians face, and the need for ongoing and sustained activism – outside of formal political activity – will remain no matter which party wins the election. But the three opposition parties have put forward policies that, at the very minimum, stand a realistic chance of addressing some of the most urgent problems that students, recent graduates, and young professionals are grappling with today. And after four years of being ignored by our current federal government, the election of either opposition party would represent a major improvement over the Harper Conservatives’ “do nothing” approach to youth issues. 



If you could choose one thing that would make your job and/or work environment better, what would it be?