Who speaks for younger Canada?

Last year, the federal government made one of the more significant reforms to our social welfare policies in recent decades. Pitched as a fix for intergenerational equity issues, they spared Baby Boomers as much pain as possible while not even bothering to ask younger Canadians about it.

Why? Because they knew there would be no consequences.

The reforms were to Old Age Security (OAS), a core element in Canada's social safety net that provides a basic income to virtually all seniors. The program has helped to dramatically reduce seniors' poverty in recent decades.

The problem though, as federal politicians pointed out with some urgency, is that our society is getting older and OAS was projected get unsustainably more expensive over the coming decades.

To deal with this rising cost, the 2012 Budget announced that the retirement age for OAS eligibility - the age when people start to collect - will rise from 65 to 67. It just won’t start rising for another decade, and not fully until 2029 (details are here). Not so urgent after all I guess.

On its face, this change is a good thing for younger Canadians as it will reduce the burden on future taxpayers (i.e. us). But the intergenerational politics sends an ugly message: the “grandfathering” of the change means that just about every Boomer gets a pass.

Yet, following the announcement, there was no chorus of dissenting younger voices. In fact, one of the only groups that spoke out against the move was the Canadian Association of Retired People (CARP), an influential interest group...for seniors!

In younger Canada? Crickets.

This highlights a couple of important points. The first is that there are no formal advocacy groups speaking on behalf of younger Canadians about big issues like this.

Other generational groups have organizations that represent them. For seniors, this includes CARP, with a membership of over 300,000, and others. Even for Boomers, the biggest generational cohort, there are outlets like Zoomer Media that reinforce their values and interests.

Along similar lines, businesses are members in industry associations and hire lobbyists to represent them (think, local Chambers of Commerce or the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers). Environmental NGOs like the David Suzuki Foundation and poverty groups are also active in public advocacy.

All of these groups have the organizational capacity and resources to engage members and supporters, craft public messages to influence opinion, and to talk to governments directly in an effort to influence decisions and policies.

Younger people are members in certain groups that do advocacy, including campus student groups, youth-led activist groups like LeadNow or web-based organizations like Avaaz. But there hasn’t been a broad-based advocacy group speaking up for us.

The second, related, point is that, in the absence of these pressure groups - who lobby politicos directly, or put pressure on them by making a stink in the media - there is little political consequence for governments that ignore us. If we're not going to prod them, give them PR headaches or cost them votes at election time, why care about our issues?

Clearly, part of the challenge is that younger Canadians have a much broader array of interests than some other generational or single-issue advocacy groups. (Seniors have plenty of concerns, but are famously focused on the two biggies in their life stage: pensions and health care.) The younger working age group - broadly 20s to 40s - includes folks at very different stages in their personal and professional development, so the interests and issues they care about can vary widely.

Still, there are some big ticket items that should be important for all of us: acquiring education and decent-paying jobs; finding suitable housing; securing the mat or pat benefits and child care to be able to have kids; ensuring that our democracy works, and that our country can play a meaningful role in the world; and on and on.

Nobody has been speaking up about these issues on our behalf...

Until now.  We’re building a Generation Squeeze movement to raise the profile of younger Canadians’ issues and press governments to do something about them.

Let Gen Squeeze founder, intergen thinker and UBC Prof Dr. Paul Kershaw explain.

The lesson from the OAS reforms is that even well-meaning intergen policies can be delivered in ways that accommodate other generations at our expense.

These generational debates in the years ahead will only get uglier, revolving around who will make the biggest sacrifices - paying more, getting less, or both. If we don't find ways to be heard, we'll keep getting the short end of the stick.

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“Yes, Canadian governments need to make younger people a priority. I want a Canada that works for all generations."

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