The Young (Unemployed) and the Restless

It’s an election year in Canada, and there’s one word dominating the national and provincial political discourse: jobs. Every major political party, from the governing federal Conservatives to the (currently) third place Ontario NDP, is talking about employment, job creation and “families in need.” Interestingly, in Ontario, one subset of the employment issue is starting to gather particular attention: youth unemployment.

As The Globe and Mail reported recently, Ontario has a 15% youth unemployment rate, which is higher than the national average and double the overall unemployment rate in Ontario. These aren’t just struggling high-school dropouts: smart, educated and well-trained young people are scrambling to find work—any work at all, in most cases—and the outlook is bleak.

The political class has good reason to be worried. Young people are often the catalyst for             sweeping social and political change; throw in the restlessness of unemployment with no prospects, and the situation threatens to grow from undesirable to volatile. Although extreme as a comparison, the political protests in the Middle East over the past year were largely fueled by young, unemployed idealists who craved the chance to enjoy better lives and more opportunities. Here in Canada we are, of course, exceptionally lucky to live in a stable democracy with a strong tradition of social security to cushion the blow of joblessness, but the problem remains—and it’s growing. As Britain has recently come to realize, legions of unoccupied and disillusioned youth can quickly turn against the establishment, particularly if they feel cheated by those holding the power.

With the provincial election heating up in Ontario, all the major party leaders have begun touting their job policies, including their particular plans for coping with a soaring unemployment rate amongst young Ontarians. Two of the main parties are currently touting a series of specialized tax credits to help foster employment.

Andrea Horwath’s NDP has a new jobs platform pledging to create a Job Creation Tax Credit and a Training Tax Credit, both designed to encourage employers to take on new workers. Going through their platform, however, it’s not clear how these credits will aid unemployed people under 25 specifically, as opposed to lumping them in with the general population. The NDP has a strong support base amongst young Canadians, which may give them a competitive advantage among this demographic. However, if one of the other main parties begins to outshine them on job creation, things could quickly shift.

Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives have outlined a 5-point plan for creating jobs in Ontario, primarily through tax reductions and slashing bureaucracy. The PCs are putting forward a policy that would create apprenticeship spaces through the Ontario college system—however, there is little word in their current platform about directly targeting youth unemployment, or creating jobs for those already educated and trying to enter the workforce in high-knowledge industries, as opposed to the trade positions normally associated with apprenticeships. Given the traditionally lower youth turnout for the PCs, it would be in their interest to begin aggressively addressing the issue with clear policies if they want to pick up young votes.

Dalton McGuinty’s governing Liberals have garnered the most attention in terms of their job creation plans, particularly a tax credit for employers to encourage the hiring of new Canadians. The party’s platform, however, makes only passing reference to youth-targeted initiatives, with plans to assist in helping student loan repayments for youth struggling to find work as well as a somewhat vague plan promising to investing in “innovation.” These are all well and good, but like the NDP and PCs, the plans come off undefined and unremarkable at best.

Pollsters are showing a tight race between the Liberals and PCs, with a strong NDP surge forming—Ontario really is becoming anybody’s race. It’s worth asking why the parties aren’t making more noise about what really is a serious issue. Young people are always the bedrock of what the economy will become, which makes the lack of real discussion and policy on youth employment all the more troubling. With such a tight race and such a large group of new voters suffering through an inability to establish careers, the election could very well hinge on the party that taps into this disenchantment with some real outreach and concrete ideas. The young—and their votes—are there for the winning. Why aren’t the leaders taking notice?

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