The fiscal truth behind the effort to attract younger voters

As Canadians under age 38 became the largest voting block, all federal parties campaigned for the younger vote. Many promises were made to make life more affordable and reduce climate change for Millennials and Gen Zs. Some of these promises will make incremental progress if delivered.

But underneath the campaign rhetoric courting younger voters, the costed platforms reveal a different story.

All parties promised to build on the last federal budget by delivering younger voters a fraction of the new spending, and much more debt.

The costed platforms of the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP project a large deficit by the time Canadians are scheduled to return to the polls in four years. This is largely because they committed to major increases in spending for the aging population, without collecting enough revenue in advance from the growing group of retirees to cover the costs.

Consider, for example, that the Liberal platform projects a $21 billion deficit in 2023-24. In that same year, the Liberal party plans to increase spending on Old Age Security by $19.9 billion. The next largest increase in the Liberal plan is the Canada Health Transfer, at $9.8 billion – half of which goes to Canadians age 65+. Together, $25 billion in new annual spending is earmarked for retirees.

By contrast, the Liberal platform promises less than $8 billion for younger Canadians on promises related to child care, the Canada Child Benefit, better parental leave, postsecondary and housing affordability.

It’s not just the Liberal party. The Conservative and NDP platforms also featured large age gaps. None of these parties promised to grow spending on younger Canadians at even half the investment they promised to retirees.

Such age gaps are not adequate if federal parties are serious that younger Canadians should be able to afford a good home either as renters or owners; or afford enough time at home and work when they start their families.

The debt incurred to pay for additional medical care and retirement income for Canada’s aging population will be shouldered by their kids, grandchildren and future generations, exacerbating a worrisome trend. Four decades ago, each Canadian under age 45 inherited approximately $15,000 in government debt (after inflation). Today, each younger Canadian inherits closer to $45,000.

Passing larger bills to younger Canadians might be okay if bills pile up to boldly fight climate change. But Liberal, Conservative and NDP platforms didn’t commit to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions by 2030 to levels recommended by the scientific community – only the Greens did.

Instead, the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP can’t balance their books in part because they don’t commit to raise revenue fairly between generations.

All parties steered away from opportunities to cut income taxes for lower and middle earners by collecting more revenue from housing wealth in response to large increases in equity accumulated by many home owners, especially older generations. Parties avoided this opportunity despite regularly proclaiming they would ask the “wealthy” to contribute a little more.

Similarly, the official opposition campaigned against shifting revenue collection away from income taxes on lower and middle earners by collecting more revenue from pricing pollution so as to discourage industrial and individual carbon emissions. The World Health Organization reports these emissions pose the greatest risk to human health in the 21st century. Taxing pollution is good health policy for younger Canadians, and a smart way to raise revenue while greening the economy.

Parliamentarians are less likely to budget ambitiously for younger Canada so long as the federal government doesn’t adequately report how its finances break down by age. It’s time to monitor if Ottawa is growing child care spending in proportion to old age security; postsecondary in proportion to medical care; helping younger renters as much as older, wealthy homeowners; and not over-depleting the atmosphere’s scarce and precious capacity to absorb pollution.

If there is genuine concern to tackle the big problems facing younger Canadians, as campaign rhetoric suggested, the new minority government will need to look beyond the incremental promises offered younger voters in party platforms. It will need to budget urgently, and fairly, for young and old alike.

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