We like to think that tomorrow belongs to our young people.
Until today’s politicians take it away from them.
Premier Doug Ford’s self-proclaimed “Government for the People” is looking more like the Government for Old People. Or more precisely, the Government that Doesn’t Get Young People.
Ever since taking power last summer, the Progressive Conservatives have targeted our youth for the biggest take-aways — in the workplace, on campus, and in our environment. In a single day this week — best described as Black Tuesday — the Ford government announced an astonishingly ageist hit list that shortchanges the future of our young people.
The day began with the revocation of a $15 minimum wage scheduled for next January — deemed unaffordable for the foreseeable future and frozen at $14 an hour. It continued with the removal of a minimum two paid sick days — described as untenable. And it culminated with the rescinding of basic protections for workers who are at the beck and call of employers for last-minute scheduling changes which the law now requires them to either plan ahead for or pay for — deemed irresponsible by the Tories.
These workplace reforms, implemented by the previous Liberal government last year, recognized that the precarious labour force of tomorrow — made up of today’s young people — could not continue to be treated as in the past. Just because business always did it that way, and wants to keep doing it that way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way.
But, bending to a sustained outcry from small business lobbyists about the purported costs — not just in profits but jobs — the Tories have made their calculation. Never mind that the minimum wage increase was accompanied by the lowest unemployment rates in recent memory, and robust economic growth.
Ford bought into a bumper-sticker slogan, reflected in the formal title of the new legislation rescinding those workplace gains. It’s called the “Making Ontario Open for Business Act.”
Opening the door to business. Closing the door to young people.
By early evening on Black Tuesday, the Tories had snuck in another announcement closing yet another door on young people: Three embryonic post-secondary satellite campuses, in three of the GTA’s fastest-growing and dynamic communities, were orphaned. Funding for the new campuses in Markham, Milton and Brampton was summarily cancelled on the grounds that the government is financially tapped out — or more precisely, unwilling to invest in the education of young suburbanites if it doesn’t help them with older voters.
Also on Black Tuesday, Ford publicly proclaimed his undying opposition to the federal government putting a price on pollution, vowing to fight any form of carbon tax in the courts. That’s unsurprising for an older politician who sounds increasingly like a closet climate denier (and emissions enabler), but it’s yet another abandonment of the young people who will have to live with global warming long after Ford has frozen them out.
Even before Black Tuesday, the Progressive Conservatives had made their choice between young people and old. Within 48 hours of taking power last summer, they ended a universal pharmacare program that provided free comprehensive prescription drug coverage for people up to age 24 (downgrading it to a charitable program for the needy — the opposite of our medicare program). Days later, the Tories suspended any new emergency needle exchange programs, deliberating and delaying until they grudgingly agreed last week to let them continue (albeit with a new cap). And they broke a promise to await the results of a basic income pilot program that could have been a model for young people in the precarious labour markets of the future.
Why does the Government for the People ignore young people? It’s hard to blame the Progressive Conservatives for taking the path of least resistance.
Young people didn’t vote for Ford in large numbers, indeed they didn’t much vote for anybody in the June 7 election. And if you’re unwilling to stand up and be counted, politicians will walk on by — or walk all over you.
In our democracy, if you don’t give, you don’t get.
In his defence, Ford never hid his intention to block a $15 minimum wage, nor his plan to ignore global warming by allowing businesses to pollute without penalty. What he didn’t talk about was downsizing pharmacare for youth, abrogating the basic income pilot project, or orphaning three post-secondary campuses in the GTA (which the Progressive Conservatives pledged to support in mid-campaign).
The young people who were missing in action on voting day are now bearing the brunt of the government’s actions. Yes, the future belongs to our youth, but only if they fight for it — and vote for it.
Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn