Canada’s Demographic Quarrel

The numbers are in—and they’re not good. The results of the latest national census were released by Statistics Canada last week, and they largely confirm what we already knew. Canada is getting older, power and money are moving west, and young people are struggling in a sluggish economy. As the country greys, the tension grows. We’re seeing a younger generation step up and push back in the face of a seemingly bleak future. Politicians and baby boomers are being confronted with assertive young adults who are frustrated with the direction their lives are taking. The truth is, we’re in the middle of a culture war that’s pitting young against old.

This admittedly controversial notion seems to be fuelling a growing narrative of generations that are stubborn and unwilling to understand each other’s opposing views and needs. The most prominent example has been in the streets of Montreal for the past few months, but the discord can be seen around the world. As developed countries age demographically, the clash between older and young adults is permeating all levels of society. On a social and economic scale, we’re seeing the effects everywhere, particularly in areas like economic output and employment (both public and private).

There’s an interesting example to be taken from the recent changes to the Old Age Security (OAS) program and employment in the civil service. The federal government’s decision to scale back the qualification age for OAS by two years in a bid to save money and ensure long-term socio-economic stability has created a problem in terms of government jobs. The longer people work, the less often those jobs open up. With fewer senior workers leaving their posts and allowing others to move up, fewer jobs are available for younger people. In turn, those with high ambition are straining for opportunities. In the rare instance that a new position opens, these young applicants will lack the skills and experience that older, established workers have. The foundation of stable, long-term employment becomes shakier.

At the same time, the government is cutting back the creation of new entry-level jobs. The National Capital Region alone is set to lose around 20,000 jobs in the federal public service, one of the region’s largest employers. As jobs are lost through lay-offs or attrition, young people are being dealt the hardest blow. Recent graduates and new hires have the least job security due to their relatively brief employment history. Here in the age of downsizing and strained budgets, we’re seeing the same problems arise across all companies and organizations, both in Canada and in other austerity-minded countries. In this light, it’s easy to see how the number of young Canadians neither working nor in school has climbed to an alarming one million.

As important as they are, jobs and money are only pieces of this burgeoning demographic clash. If we look at the Quebec protests, what started out as a comparatively simple argument over tuition has grown into casino online a full-blown crisis about the state of the system—that deep-rooted but vague concept of how society functions and what is fair. This clash between old and young is about abstract issues like respect and equality, and about a social set-up that many young people see as unjust.

For them, it is unreasonable that one generation benefited so handsomely from an economic model that is now, conveniently, no longer affordable. The father-knows-best mentality kicks in and makes it easy for wealthier, older Canadians to chide the young as lazy or apathetic without considering the complexity of the circumstances thrust upon them.

Young people, like everyone, want to work—we all need to do something, to be useful. They don’t put themselves through four years of education and incur huge debt without having some aspiration and desire to build a life. It is wrong to chide the young for being apathetic or politically disengaged, yet make it harder and harder for them to find a good job, a task that is already terribly stressful and all-consuming.

If the status quo remains as it is, these tensions and skirmishes will only become more common and more prominent. Rather than continuing to give in to defeatist pessimism, what we really need is a conversation that engages all Canadians in an attempt to solve our problems.

Rather than pandering solely to older voters, politicians must start addressing the needs of everyone, particularly a maturing generation of young workers that are being subjected to great instability. Young people need to ensure they make their voices heard in reasonable, democratic and non-violent ways if they want to be taken seriously. Canada has always struggled with binaries—East and West, French and English—but we don’t have to succumb to a crippling fight between young and old. If we don’t start working together for the sake of harmony and prosperity, this demographic quarrel could bring us all to our knees.

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