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Harper government fails unemployed youth

Elections Canada has estimated that 38.8 per cent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 to 24 voted in the May 2011 federal election. That’s significantly lower than the official turnout of 61.1 per cent for all voters and almost half the 75.1 per cent rate for voters ages 65-74. And as we head into the federal election expected on October 19, 2015, these figures are important to keep in mind in relation to the Harper government’s record on youth employment and training and how the government wants to present itself as able fiscal managers.

Today, in an article with the headline Joe Oliver on crafting an election-winning budget, the Globe and Mail reports, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has handed [finance minister] Oliver perhaps his government’s most critical assignment. The budget he will table in early 2015 will frame the message Conservatives take to voters in the election later in the year. The Tories want to be seen as able fiscal managers. Oliver is the messenger. With surpluses anew, the Harper government has room to slash taxes, increase spending and reduce the federal debt—all at once.”

The article highlights, “If he gets it right, Oliver may even get to keep his job beyond the next election. ‘I think I’m the edge of the sword’, he says of the coming campaign. ‘The critical message we’re going to be conveying to Canadians is that we are good economic stewards and the country is strong, doing better, despite the external risks.'”

And yet just this past September, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) stated, “Although Canada has weathered the recent global recession comparatively well, employment prospects for young adults have barely improved. In the second quarter of 2014, the unemployment rate of youth (aged 15 to 24 years) was more than double that of prime-aged workers (aged 25 years and over), 13.4% as compared to 5.9%. The proportion of young Canadians, who were neither employed nor in education and training (NEET), has also risen by 1.4 percentage points since the onset of the crisis to 9%. By comparison, the NEET rate barely increased in the [34 country] OECD area as a whole.”

The OECD recommended, “Tackling youth unemployment and the rising number of young people out of work and out of school should be a priority [for the Harper government].”

But despite the recommendation from this corporate-friendly body, we haven’t yet seen any substantial commitment from the Harper government to address these issues. Instead, we’ve seen $3 billion in tax breaks in the form of income-splitting, increased baby bonus payments, and a tax deduction for parents for child care expenses rather than proper investments in public day care services.

And as much as the Harper government wants to position itself as ‘able fiscal managers’, even its friends a the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may quibble with that. According to them, the Canadian economy under Harper is not keeping up with the rest of the world. In October, the Toronto Star reported, “The IMF now expects global growth to average 3.3 per cent in 2014 and rise to 3.8 per cent for 2015. …By contrast, the Canadian economy is expected to expand by 2.3 per cent this year and 2.4 per cent in 2015, the IMF said.”

Beyond the Harper government’s voter-ID provisions in its so-called Fair Elections Act that make it harder for students to vote, student debt continuing to increase (the average student debt now stands at about $27,000) and its admission that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector will increase in Canada by 48 per cent by 2030 further endangering the future of the planet itself, it’s clear that Harper and Oliver have not prioritized youth employment and supports for those not in education and training programs.

The Council of Canadians will be pursuing various strategies over the coming months to encourage young people to vote – and defeat the Harper government – in the October 2015 federal election. We call on all parties to support economic policies that benefit young people and the 99 per cent, not just big banks, energy companies and other corporate interests.