When I speak with young people across the country about their concerns for the future, one subject is raised with alarming frequency – young Canadians are faced with tremendous obstacles in finding career-building opportunities and the hope of middle-class prosperity is increasingly distant for many of them.
Their struggles are well-documented: soaring tuition rates have led to record levels of debt even before they enter the workplace, the job market has largely shifted to towards lower paid, transient opportunities and young people are far less likely to retire with the same pensions of their parents' generation.
Record housing prices are putting home ownership out of reach and the recent recession has meant that many baby boomers are remaining in the labour force longer than they otherwise would have. Worse still is the looming demographic shift; not only do our youth face a hostile job market but they do so knowing that they will carry the burden of needing to sustain the healthcare and retirement and benefits of an aging population.
Depressed yet? With youth unemployment at 15 per cent – double the national average – policy makers must do a better job at helping tomorrow's leaders to position themselves to succeed today. To date we have not taken the issue of youth unemployment and underemployment seriously enough. We have been too preoccupied with ourselves, our own problems, but soon we will realize this is a mistake. Canada needs everything that our youth have to offer, and quite frankly, we owe it them and to ourselves to make sure that temporary prospects are replaced with real opportunities.
So what do we do?
First and foremost I believe the key is to build a much stronger, more diversified economy – a knowledge-based economy. An economy that has strengths in health sciences, in high tech, in renewable energy, in the arts and film, as well as natural resources – in short, an economy of the future. Where is the world economy going? What will be the jobs of the future? We must build a Canadian economy that will create the jobs of the next generation.
A globally competitive Canadian economy, an economy that is balanced and future looking, will open the world to young Canadians and provide them with the opportunities they seek. It is for this reason I have put a relentless focus on encouraging innovation and the building of a knowledge economy here at home. I have proposed to open up Canada to competition in telecommunications and I have proposed ambitious measures to support entrepreneurs and start-ups. If we are smart and invest, we can build Canada into an even stronger global economic force and build new globally competitive businesses that will create thousands of jobs here at home.
Furthermore, to ensure many of these new opportunities go to Canadian youth, I would create serious incentives for businesses to hire young Canadians and give them career experience. As one measure, I have proposed to eliminate Employment Insurance payroll taxes that employers pay when they hire additional young people and give them career experience like technical skills or managerial experience. Together with measures to increase investment in workplace skills and ensuring skilled new Canadians are properly integrated into the workforce, I believe we can transform Canada's economy. Taking this approach we will encourage industry to play an active role in creating an economy that is forward looking and rewards creativity and innovation.
Bottom line, we must take real, concrete action to support our youth. Our youth deserve better. They should see broad horizons, not just barriers and mountains of debt. They should feel assured that their nation supports them and that there is hope in front of them – because with hope, our youth can have the courage to seek out their dreams. Only by adopting a 360-degree approach to this issue will we see real change. No more bromides, no more talk, the time to act is today. It is not only the right thing to do for them, but all of us.
Marc Garneau is the Member of Parliament for Westmount Ville-Marie and a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.