So now it’s out there: Canada’s a greying nation. No one’s really surprised by this; we’ve been warned about it for a decade. The real issue is what we do about it.
All this is especially holds true for politics, where new research on the subject has been matched by commentary stating that aging Baby Boomers spell gold for Stephen Harper. The reasoning is simple: seniors primarily vote Conservative because they get to keep more of their money. Maybe. Maybe not. For these next few blogs I want to focus on why I believe the federal Liberal party, in search of a new mandate, should start moving carefully in the opposite direction. Forget the search for the centre – that’s now passé. We need a new vision for a young Canada and it’s time for the party to take that challenge seriously. The political specialists within the party will remind us that we have to go after the few undecided votes left on the political spectrum, but given how that strategy has gone for us in this past few years, other options should be considered.
Generations X and Y are the children and the grandchildren of the Baby Boomers. Presently 5% of this country’s jobs are occupied by the World War II generation – mostly in highly senior positions. Forty-five per cent of the workforce is now taken up with the Boomers. That leaves a full 50% of work placements filled by X’ers and Y’ers. With those aged 60-65 forming Canada’s fasting growing cohort, it’s not hard to tell where the future of Canada is headed. Significant retirement rates in the next decade will mean that the younger generation – immigrants and domestic – will be increasingly responsible for this country’s future. Despite all this, we are being told that the political “sweet spot” is with the Boomers, most of who will be retiring shortly. That’s placing the vision for Canada in the past, not the future.
And what are the key issues for those born in the 1970s and 1980s? The answers are obvious – secure employment with benefits, enough wealth to raise a family, affordable post-secondary education, environmental sustainability, innovation in the private sector, early learning and childhood education, a secure retirement and affordable healthcare. Where is the government on such issues? Nowhere. Stephen Harper never pinned his hopes on this group and that is reflected in his policy decisions. Boomers are living longer, so he hopes to plumb their votes for the duration.
Those from Generations X and Y have known the game has been geared to the Boomers for years. The Liberals and Conservatives both played that card, and the NDP is sliding into that perceived sweet spot because it’s believed that’s where the power lies and they’re hungry for it. The irony is that it’s not where the future is, merely the vestiges of the power structures of the past.
The younger generations are the ones railing against income disparity and the 99-1% because they’ve been the victims. Boomers got in before the door was shut; the X’ers and Y’ers have since given up knocking because they view such financial and political orders as insufficient for the modern era, even unethical.
The federal Liberal Party should understand what we’re talking about here. Our Centennial year – 1967 – arrived under the Liberal watch. Canada was 100 years old, but not in the mind of the Liberal leadership. Pearson and Trudeau opted to emphasize how young we were and they set up a series of celebrations that prioritized the place of the young in Canadian culture. If there was ever a youthful display of patriotism, that was the year. Despite his age, Lester Pearson knew it and promoted it because his interest was in Canada and not just power. Trudeau seized that challenge when his time arrived and on the world stage we were seen a nation that had just discovered a new lease on life.
But then came poverty, climate change, political dysfunction, income disparity, the basing of our future on our natural resources instead of our young minds – the greatest natural resource of all. Along came the Reform Party, pushing us not just rightward but backwards. We prided ourselves in co-opting some of their ideas on debts and deficits and thought we got away with it. We didn’t. We were already heading in the wrong direction when Stephen Harper took office and opted to drive as fast as he could toward the moneyed classes. Now we have class divisions, embedded poverty, no environmental policy, university that lies increasingly out of reach, the breaking up of labour standards, the rewarding of financial risk over hard work, a declining image in the world, and a future for our young that appears nothing like the opportunities their parents enjoyed.
The time has arrived for the Liberal Party to fight for the young, for the future, for the possibilities of tomorrow, for they, and not the Boomers, will be the main group we will have to rely on for productivity. Let’s develop policies that provide the next generations with a clean planet, a sterling education, the opportunity to start their own companies and flourish, have children, and raise families based on the possibilities of tomorrow and not the bankrolls of yesterday.
In everyone’s rush to the centre – NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives – we left our youth behind. The truly patriotic party of tomorrow will be the one that not only helps them to catch up, but to go on ahead scoping out the possibilities for the Canada of the next generation. We must start investing in the framework they will require for their best exploits.