Interview with Sean Speer (Transcript)

Episode 3

Interview with Sean Speer: Younger generations aren't getting their fair share of Canada's budget pie

May 25, 2022

 

Angie Chan (00:02):

Hello, I'm Angie Chan.

Paul Kershaw (00:04):

And I'm Paul Kershaw.

Angie Chan (00:06):

We're the hosts of Hard Truths, a podcast brought to you by Gen Squeeze about Canada's broken generational system and how to fix it. Um, Paul, do you need to finish lunch before we get started?

Megan (00:20):

Sorry. That's Me...

Angie Chan (00:21):

Is that Megan? Listeners, Megan is our producer.

Megan (00:25):

Just trying to enjoy the last little pathetic piece of my chocolate Easter cake that my mother-in-law left for me.

Angie Chan (00:32):

Oh geez.

Megan (00:33):

The icing-to-cake ratio is all wrong. Sorry.

Angie Chan (00:37):

Uh, well, I'm sorry for your loss. I can totally relate. I feel the same way when I have the wrong pasta sauce to pasta ratio as well, but that's actually a good segue to today's Hard Truth.Paul?

Paul Kershaw (00:48):

It really is because today we're gonna talk about how Canadian retirees eat more of the budget cake and the budget icing than I suspect many people think. And that leaves little left over for younger and future generations. You know, we jest a little bit, but the Hard Truth today is that there is a generational bias in our country's politics that prioritizes the needs of older Canadians. And to dig into that, we've invited our first ever guest, Sean Speer, to help us understand why he thinks Canada has become a gerontocracy and what this means for generational fairness.

Angie Chan (01:21):

Okay. You're gonna have to define gerontocracy for me.

Paul Kershaw (01:24):

Yeah. I figured as much. Gerontocracy is like a fancy word to refer to politics that's dominated by retirees or by older people. And our guest, Sean, has actually penned an article recently called "The politics of gerontocracy" for Politico, which we will link to in our episode notes. Sean's also been a senior economic policy advisor to former prime minister Harper, and he is now a widely sought-after media commentator and a prof at the University of Toronto. In addition to all of that, he's the editor at large for The Hub and host of The Hub Dialogues podcast.

Angie Chan (01:57):

Great. So we're grateful that Sean could spend some time with us, but before we bring him in, I'd like to take a second to say that the intergenerational inequities that we are trying to solve represent such a gnarly bundle of cultural, social, and political issues, issues that get right to the heart of who we are as people living within the boundaries of this country. Issues that are generations in the making. It behooves us to meaningfully engage voices and perspectives from across all spectrums to understand and solve them. So I'm really proud that Gen Squeeze is talking to people with diverse viewpoints and experiences on this podcast.

Paul Kershaw (02:33):

I think it's really great that you highlight that Angie, because in advance of having our first guest interview, I want everyone to know that Gen Squeeze is absolutely with confidence, a nonpartisan organization. We wanna reach across to the left, the right and anything that transcends that to search for the best ideas that can solve these complex issues of intergenerational inequities. And while our guests are gonna air a range of perspectives on this podcast, it's not necessarily the case that Gen Squeeze is always going to endorse or subscribe to those views, but we nevertheless will continue to invite people from across different spectrums to join our conversations.

Angie Chan (03:07):

Thanks, Paul. And I really hope that we'll hear from our listeners about what additional perspectives and voices they want to hear from as we try to fix Canada's broken generational system. So for everyone listening out there, please, please don't hesitate to reach out to us on social media or send us your thoughts to info at gensqueeze.ca. Okay. Let's get started.

Paul Kershaw (03:28):

Welcome to Hard Truths. Sean, I am so excited to have you here, because I wanna talk about a Hard Truth you raised in a great article that you penned recently for Politico called "The politics of gerontocracy." And I wanna quote you to you, you wrote, "For all of the talk about income inequality, these days, the bigger problem may be the gap between younger and older Canadians when it comes to wealth opportunity and the bias of government policy." And so my first question to you is, as someone who's worked as a senior policy advisor in the office of the prime minister in this country, what do you mean there is a generational bias in public policy?

Sean Speer (04:08):

The two ways in which I'd answer that is one empirical and the second conceptual. You know, the empirical one's easier because the evidence of, uh, intergenerational bias towards public spending on older Canadians is self evident. Generation Squeeze and others have documented the extent to which Canadian government spending is tilted significantly in favour of those 65. And over in fact, you know, according to some analysis, Canada has a greater degree of intergenerational inequity in its public spending compared to a whole host of peer jurisdictions. The conceptual point though may be slightly more interesting because it has to account for, you know, one, incentives built into our political system due to the fact that older Canadians tend to vote more than younger Canadians. And so there's in some ways, a natural tendency on the part of policy makers to concern themselves more with issues that animate older Canadians. I think there's the bias of legislators and policy makers themselves. You know, for a long time, our politics has been dominated by the baby boom generation, primarily for demographic and cultural reasons. And, you know, by 2030 baby boomers all will be over the age of 65. And so there's a kind of logic, public policy and politics would tilt in favour of issues of interest to that cohort and the ones that preceded it. So that's a long way of saying from my vantage point, both as someone who spent time on the inside and now someone who observes public policy from the outside, there's pretty compelling evidence that public policy in Canada is primarily focused these days on the interests needs and concerns of older Canadians.

Paul Kershaw (05:59):

You know, you mentioned the idea that politics is responding to like the voter turnout of the baby boom generation. And it's a long standing moral of the Gen Squeeze story that politics responds to those who organize and show up. And so long as younger folks are less likely to turn up at the ballot box, we are devaluing and disempowering our generational voices in the world of politics. And I guess that contributes to your vision of a politics of gerontocracy. But I actually really wanna pick up on sort of this notion of like the bias of legislatures, because Angie and I have talked in previous episodes of the podcast that there's this cultural myth that really persists today about the poor or economically vulnerable senior, even though seniors have the lowest rates of low income in the country. And many of the data points show that they have the highest amount of wealth. When I go into the world of politics, I experience this sort of overarching sense that, oh, seniors are especially deserving, cuz they're especially economically vulnerable. How does that relate to these age patterns of inequality in politics in Canada?

Sean Speer (06:59):

That's an interesting question because that narrative, which I agree permeates a lot of our public policy discourse was actually true, not that long ago, right? I mean the progress that we've made as a society on reducing elderly poverty is a major policy accomplishment. That really is a multi partisan accomplishment through a series of policy reforms, to Old Age Security, the guaranteed income supplement and various other programs and policies we've managed to achieve a world-leading record when it comes to reducing poverty for our older population. I'm afraid I don't know why then that narrative persists. You know, it may be that people around the table were so socialized in that narrative, that it's hard for them to see the progress that we've collectively made. Let me just say one other thing, as well. As the baby boomers become the predominant share of our older or elderly population, that story is gonna be even more profoundly true. This is by virtually any measure the richest and most successful generation in human history. And so if a narrative of elderly poverty has persisted in spite of the evidence, that's gonna be even harder to explain or justify as the baby boomers hit 65 and beyond.

Paul Kershaw (08:29):

Well, I think that's really profound what you said. I think on the one hand, the fact that we have had this tremendous policy success at reducing economic vulnerability and poverty for seniors is such a motivation for a group like Gen Squeeze. Like it shows that we can have good public policy, in combination with a strong economy, and solve big generational problems that no individual can work their way out of.

Angie Chan (08:48):

Yea. So this seems to get back to what we talked about in our last Hard Truths episode about the myths of the lazy millennial and poor senior. So what we talked about was how these myths have a big impact on who we think is deserving of our support and who's not deserving. That question of how we decide who is deserving and who is not really interests me. Because we're in a gerontocracy, when deciding who gets support and who doesn't, our politicians seem to be skipping this critical question about who's really deserving and who's not when it comes to seniors. Am I getting that right?

Paul Kershaw (09:24):

I think that's right. I think what Sean's been putting on the table is that in Canadian politics, people will often get critiqued if their policy ideas don't primarily focus on floating the boats of those who are most income marginalized. And I would add that it's so interesting to see that we don't see that critique come as regularly when thinking about the fact that retirees in Canada with incomes up to $120,000 are gonna receive old age security, even though they actually haven't prepaid fully for those benefits earlier in their working lives. And I suspect we don't question this issue as much because of the cultural tendency in Canada, to assume that most seniors are poor or economically vulnerable and therefore deserving of a higher level of support. And if that's the case, then it's yet another signal of our political culture being hesitant to question what we do for seniors. Like the way we might question what we do for other groups. Sean, is that fair? Is that in line with your thinking?

Sean Speer (10:21):

It really does speak to the kind of political power and influence of this cohort. That for some reason, contemporary politics focus on distributional questions doesn't extend to spending on older Canadians. And the consequence of that, of course, means that in a world of scarcity, if we're not going to place constraints around old age spending, so as to kind of minimize the extent to which it's going to households or individuals who don't need it, it just by definition means that there's not only less money available for low-income seniors, but obviously it means that there's less money available for other generations as well.

Paul Kershaw (11:02):

Well, I'm gonna just riff off that then right away, because I recently attended the federal budget lockup for budget 2022. And in it, the budget details show, once again, that Old Age Security, this retirement income security program, is not only the biggest federal public policy program, but once again, it is the fastest increasing investment in the federal budget. And it showed that over the next five years that we're gonna grow Old Age Security spending by $85 billion. By comparison spending on medical care is gonna go up by about $30 billion. And half of that will actually go to retirees. Childcare, which has an historic new funding envelope, is only going up by $27 billion. I think housing's going up by $10 (billion) and our fight against climate change is going up by $9 (billion). And so when I'm someone who looks at like, what are our priorities as a society, I go and look at like, where do we put our money? And it is really interesting to me that the increase in retirement income spending didn't even get mentioned in the budget speech. It gets buried in the fine print of the budget. And this isn't just new to the current federal government. This has existed for some time. It did under Prime Minister Harper, when you were in the PMO. Why does it get buried in the fine print of a budget, as opposed to getting pulled out and discussed and debated in society?

Sean Speer (12:22):

I think in some ways, Paul it's because our political conversation has come to think of those policies and programs as completely off limits, you know, that they are part of the kind of baseline. And the debate then is limited to incremental spending or new tax policies. And that assumption about Old Age Security and other similar programs, you know, means that that's how this intergenerational inequity becomes entrenched. You create these programs. You then collectively decide that they're off limits for really any discussion or debate, perhaps with the exception of groups like Generation Squeeze. And then we're really just debating or fighting on the margins for the table scraps that are left for younger generations. And let me just emphasize, you know, I think Old Age Security is a justifiable program. I don't think it ought...

Paul Kershaw (13:18):

Agreed.

Sean Speer (13:18):

...to be eliminated or something like that. But there are real legitimate policy questions about eligibility age, you know, which of course has been the subject of some political debate. I think there's legitimate questions about income thresholds at which it ends. The fact that we are taking it essentially off the table, given as you say, what a significant share of federal spending is dedicated to that program and others, really does codify or entrench the growing share of the overall pie that's going to this politically powerful cohort.

Paul Kershaw (13:52):

Well, as I reflect on what's happening right now I've spent years going into a PMO. I've gone into Finance Canada, I've gone to Treasury Canada, and I've almost said it like I'm pleading. I think like if I could I get on my hands and knees, and say, "Would you at least please draw public attention to the way in which we are growing Old Age Security faster than other spending?" Because in this current moment where we don't have federal governments reflecting a cultural context where we have really any concern about balancing budgets, the growth in Old Age Security actually accounts for 60% of the deficits that the current federal government plans over the next five years. Fully 60%. But if we're not willing to chat about that, we become a culture that I think risks inviting Canadians to ask for more benefits, without having a serious conversation about how and who ought to be contributing to pay for more. And that invites us to like, want more cake, want to eat it too, but not talk about the cost involved in producing the cake in the first place.

Sean Speer (14:52):

Yeah, that's a big question. And one that, you know, ought to be put to our policymakers. I'm afraid I didn't know that statistic Paul, that's a powerful one. So if you kind of stripped down, you know, what the government's spending on, relative to the revenues that it's bringing in, the idea that old age spending is, you know, a major part more than half of what we're essentially putting on the credit card is telling. You know, we've decided that we collectively have a responsibility to help seniors. But for some reason we don't seem to have fully in our minds the same collective responsibility to help people raise children and have families. I mean the big childcare agreement that you mentioned earlier may be the first signal of that, but in a world of declining fertility, which is driven in large part by a sense that people cannot manage the costs of home ownership, student loans, job precarity, etcetera. And in turn are having fewer kids than they even say that they want, that there's a gap between people's idealized family size and their actual family size. And there's a societal interest in using public policy to try to close that gap. And yet when push comes to shove in this world of scarcity, we only have what's left over to do that. And yeah, as I say, it speaks to this kind of weird conceptual dissonance where everyone seems to agree that we have a collective interest in supporting older Canadians. And yet we don't seem to have the same commitment to supporting younger Canadians, particularly those raising young families.

Angie Chan (16:29):

So I'm just gonna tag on, we talk a lot about kind of philosophically, there's an understanding of, well, if you do harm, you take responsibility for it. If you damage somebody's things, you repair it. And I'm wondering from your perspective, how you might define the harms that are being experienced by younger generations right now. So I'm wondering if there's a way to get a little bit more precise and specific about the harms and the responsibility we have to attend to those.

Sean Speer (17:00):

Hmm. That's a great question, Angie. The one that, you know, always strikes me is this gap between idealized and actual family size. So, you know, it may be crude, but there's a kind of empirical measure of the consequences of families having fewer kids than they want. The kind of financial harm, it's mostly in the form of opportunity costs. So people say they're renting, they're not owning. They're living in smaller places than they they would've in previous generations. And so, you know, people, I think credibly feel like they're not getting ahead, especially when compared to previous generations. If I can just say something bigger picture though, Angie, about different ways in which to sort of make the argument in favor of a politics that sought to achieve a greater degree of intergenerational equity and fairness. I'm not sure that the way to appeal to politicians and older Canadians is in the form of kind of normative arguments. I think it's one of self-interest. Like I think if these issues continue to go unaddressed, it risks creating political instability and harming social cohesion. And you know, we'll see younger people drawn to an increasingly radical politics. You know, you'll have demagogues on either end of the political spectrum seizing on some of the issues that we've been talking about today. So I think my appeal to the political class would be by tending to these issues, they are lowering the risk that it sets off a really charged political environment.

Angie Chan (18:47):

Mm-hmm <affirmative>, there may be some who are moved by a moral imperative and others who aren't. And I completely agree with you about identifying those self-interests. Could you say a little bit more about how you would define what those self-interests are that would be compelling and more critical to attend to?

Sean Speer (19:06):

Yeah, I mean, we saw the freedom convoy in Ottawa was obviously a multifaceted movement with various origins and causes and you know, many of which were unjustified and worthy of scorn, you know. But it seems to me, if a younger generation continues to believe that the future is bleak, that middle class progress is stalled, you know, I don't think it's implausible that you'll start to see, you know, equivalents of freedom convoys across the country. And we all have a kind of collective interest in political stability and social cohesion and national unity. And so by proactively addressing these issues, housing support for families, you know, addressing job precarity, student debt and so on, we can nip in the bud those political risks.

Paul Kershaw (20:03):

Well, as I reflect on the work involved in reducing those political risks to which you refer and, and the efforts that Gen Squeeze has contributed to try and address them, it makes me want to confess Sean, that I've actually had a soft spot for you for some years now. I think we met back in the day around 2014 and it might have been my very first meeting actually in the prime minister's office when Steven Harper was prime minister. And, you know, I was early in my making my elevator pitch about Gen Squeeze, a force for generational fairness. And relatively early on, you kind of paused. And you said to me, you know, Paul, if you actually build Gen Squeeze in the way that you're describing, that could be the most important institutional development in Canadian politics in decades. Were we to live up to that promise, why do you think that would be important?

Sean Speer (20:49):

Well, there's so many reasons. I mean that first is pulling younger people into mainstream politics. I think it would have the effect of changing the conversation. Um, the, the second reason why I said that then, and feel even more strongly today though, Paul, if you are interested in political stability and social cohesion, which I am, and you are watching what's going on elsewhere around the world and thinking where are the potential fault lines or fissures in Canadian society? I don't know how you can look at what's happened in the past several years and not be worried about the risk of generational divide growing stronger and stronger in Canada. You know, I was recently with Ipsos Public Affairs CEO, Darrell Bricker, who tells me that in his view, a growing sense that Canadian middle class progress has stalled for younger Canadians is increasingly the most salient issue he's picking up in his polling.

Sean Speer (21:52):

Obviously it manifests itself most concretely in concerns about housing affordability, which Generation Squeeze knows better than virtually anyone in the country. But also in, you know, issues of job precarity, student debt, delayed family formation, like I mentioned earlier. You really do get the sense that there's a generation of younger Canadians who feel like the promise of Canada is no longer available to them. And I just think that is toxic for our political culture and our social cohesion. And so it seems to me it behooves policy makers to kind of resist the built-in incentives to tilt our politics and our public policy in the direction of older Canadians. Or the risk, it seems to me, is that this just goes boom through our whole political system. And so all this to say, you know, I thought what you were doing was important in 2014. In 2022, at the risk of maybe sounding a bit hyperbolic, I think it's existential for the health of Canadian politics and Canadian democracy.

Paul Kershaw (23:01):

What advice would you give us to do it better? If we grow pharma care and dental care writ large across the province, these are gonna have serious aging implications and risk exacerbating the deficits we're talking about. Unless we talk about the hard truth of, these may be important benefits, but we have to be willing to pay for them in the contemporary context. Otherwise we just grow these very large deficits and then debts at a moment that we need to fight climate change, and we need to fight the financial squeeze on Gen Z and millennials caring for an aging population. So how do we do that better?

Sean Speer (23:35):

I think I'd have two pieces of advice if I can risk...

Paul Kershaw (23:38):

Please. We're open to critique.

Sean Speer (23:40):

...being a bit presumptuous. The first is be patient, you know, paradigmatic change doesn't happen...

Paul Kershaw (23:44):

I'm not very good at that.

Sean Speer (23:45):

...overnight. The second Paul, and I say this with just the utmost respect, but you are an empiricist and you have at your fingertips, all these extraordinary numbers about fiscal costs and government spending and the intergenerational tilt. But I wonder if increasingly the most persuasive case is less about the outlays and the kind of fiscal dimension of all of this. And it's not a cultural narrative about the milestones of middle class progress slipping away. May I just make one more point along these lines that, something I mentioned earlier, which is this gap between idealized family structure and actual. In a lot of places, Paul, people are actually having as many kids as they say they want. But in some places, including Canada, people consistently say that they're having, you know, something like one quarter or one half fewer kids than they want.

Sean Speer (24:49):

And that's primarily a function of the delayed family formation that results from all of the issues that we've been talking about: home ownership, job precarity, student debt and so on. And so that strikes me as a massive entry point and one that ought to cut across kind of ideological or partisan lines. We're really just trying to enable people to live out the lives that they say they want that presently, the systems are standing in the way. That resonates with me. I turned 40 this year. I have a 15 month old. Uh, I love him to death, but I wish I would've had him, you know, 3, 5, 7 years earlier. And, you know I think my situation is increasingly common among, uh, millennials and those younger.

Paul Kershaw (25:39):

Well, it's interesting you raised that. I do think in many respects, Gen Squeeze has occupied some of that space where just on an interview today, with someone writing for the Toronto Star, I was talking about, you know, look at where unaffordability has been most challenging in the province of British Columbia. It's no coincidence that we have the highest average age of birthing, because people are delaying starting their families. And by consequence, we also have the highest rate of cesarean sections when, uh, having children, because as you get older, there's gonna be more complexity to doing the birthing. So I really take your point on that, when hard work doesn't pay off like it used to, the consequences are the things that are most important in our lives. Like yes, a 20-something-year-old today is less likely to be partnering up with like a significant other than actually continuing to live at home with their aging parents, because they can't afford rent.

Paul Kershaw (26:29):

Yes. Which then means they delay starting their families in just the way that you described. And well, many, a parent will talk about, you know, some of the stresses that come with parenting. They will also refer to their children as some of the most important things they ever do. And that they are the things that contribute to their wellbeing the most. So when that's increasingly out of reach, that has to be a warning signal. The Canadian economy is not thriving in the way that we could be proud of. That it is actually eroding some of the abilities to achieve the most fundamental goals that individuals will have for themselves: starting and maintaining happy families.

Sean Speer (27:01):

Yep. Amen. Paul, I can't say it better than that. And I would just say one other thing. You know, again, I suspect that your listeners span the political spectrum. You know, it seems to me, especially for progressives, it's important that they get their arms around these issues. You know, Pierre Poilievre, a leadership aspirant for the conservative party of Canada, is clearly discerning that generational agitation that I mentioned earlier. And so if you are a progressive and you don't wanna live in a world where Pierre Poilievre is kind of owning these issues, it seems to me, it behooves those committed to progressive ideas to start to map out, uh, a narrative and accompanying policy agenda that speaks to the issues that we've been talking about today.

Angie Chan (27:48):

I'm gonna pick up that piece of advice that you gave to Paul regarding patience. What you're saying is paradigm shift requires patience and we see that. This is the marathon, not the sprint. So I'm wondering where do you see hope? Where should we look to for inspiration or just that extra energy to get us fired up?

Sean Speer (28:05):

That's a great question, Angie. I think the reason for hope is that there is an under-reported generational shift occurring within elected politics in Canada, Angie and Paul. You won't be surprised to know that I'm most familiar with these changes occurring, um, within conservative politics though, of course, I assume that they're occurring in, um, Liberal and NDP politics as well. In the current shadow cabinet of federal conservative opposition, something like half are millennials or on the margins of being millennials or younger. You know, we don't quite know how that generational change will manifest itself in our politics, but I have reason to think it will. These are people who didn't come of age animated by the old fights of the late 1970s and early 1980s about, you know, the size of government and the cold war and all the rest. They're motivated by contemporary issues like climate change or culture and identity. And if you're searching for hope, I do think that the conversation is going to increasingly change in the world of politics, as younger people come to take up positions of, uh, leadership in elected politics.

Paul Kershaw (29:18):

Well that hope is always a great place to end a conversation on. And Sean, unfortunately our time with you is up. So I really want to thank you for joining Hard Truths today. May we use the wisdom you have shared to foster intergenerational solidarity so that we can truly make this country work for all generations.

Sean Speer (29:35):

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Angie Chan (29:37):

Thank you, Sean and listeners, please stay with us. Sean's heading out, but Paul I'd love if we can hang out a bit more because there are some things Sean has brought up that I'd love to unpack with.

Paul Kershaw (29:47):

Sounds great.

Angie Chan (29:48):

First off he mentioned scarcity a few times and I get it. I think there are some conservatives who would be like, "That's the real world Angie." But scarcity suggests there's not enough for everyone. And that just doesn't track for me. When I look around, I see abundance. Sure. Our collective wealth needs to be more evenly spread out and shared. Definitely. But we are so fortunate to live in a country with ample resources. I find the concept of scarcity unhelpful when we think about solutions and I get very worried, um, because we've seen this before, historically that that language of scarcity pits people against each other. On our podcast, we've been really intentional about talking about solidarity and love and taking care of others, even those who are unborn.

Paul Kershaw (30:36):

Yeah, I think you're right on that front. And so on the one hand, I want to acknowledge that for someone who's worked at the highest levels of federal government, that budget time must just be a really difficult time where it feels like there is a real problem of scarcity. There's a challenge with having what they view as a fixed amount of revenue. And there's so many people calling for, you know, their share of that revenue, that it can be difficult to think how to satisfy everybody. So for anyone in the PMO, I think no matter what the size of the revenue pie is going to be, there's gonna be a lot of people asking to eat some of it. What's the other side of the conversation though, is that Gen Squeeze has long said that younger Canadians are squeezed by lower earnings, higher costs, less time in a deteriorating environment, even though our economy is producing more prosperity than before.

Paul Kershaw (31:28):

And so I think that we can have our cake and eat it too in this case. In terms of acknowledging that governments are going to sometimes feel like there's a scarcity when they're making decisions, but that's because we have a broader cultural problem, where we as Canadians are slipping into what I think is the bad habit of saying we want more and more benefits. And right now increasingly it's benefits related to PharmaCare or dental care. But we then don't have the associated serious conversation about how the heck we're gonna pay for it. And so there is wealth and affluence around us, but we as a society and a culture are setting a limit on what we're willing to collect as revenue to bring into the public sphere. And those tax levels set constraints on government. And so Canadians have this habitual disdain for talking about taxes. It's death and taxes. And that cultural habit makes it harder for politicians to win elections when talking about asking citizens to contribute enough, so that at the government investment level, we overcome the scarcity that I think was making you a little uncomfortable.

Paul Kershaw (32:35):

And we face that all the time in Gen Squeeze. We experience it when we suggest, for instance, let's erode or nibble around the edges of the home ownership tax shelters, so that we can collect some additional revenue to invest in deeply affordable rental and cooperative housing. And that gets us hate mail. And so I think Canadians have to recognize that we are in a society of a lot of abundance. There are serious distributional problems between classes and races and sexes and ages, but we also set ourselves up to not be as good as addressing those problems because we're not willing to have hard conversations about the overall size of the government revenue pie we're willing to collect.

Angie Chan (33:17):

So I can see that. And I think what you've clarified for me is it's not fixed limited resources. It's not fixed scarcity. It's scarce because we've made decisions not to expand the pie.

Paul Kershaw (33:31):

Not to expand the revenue pie. So I think that's brilliantly said. It takes us back to, we've made decisions at the federal level to grow Old Age Security. That's absorbing a large part of the societally imposed scarce revenue pie, because we are not collecting as much through revenue as we might otherwise do. And then the result at the government table is scraps left over for younger generations. So there's abundance out there in society potentially, but we have a culture that's convinced we can't talk too much about taxes and then have politicians win elections. And that creates some scarcity at the budget pie when it comes each year to try to figure out who to prioritize for important public investments.

Angie Chan (34:13):

Mm-hmm <affirmative>, I think that nuance is so important. We have choices. If we think that there is an abundance, we are richer societally. When we use the language of scarcity, it makes people hold on tight to what they have and less willing to be generous and do the sharing that we're talking about.

Paul Kershaw (34:31):

I think that's right. And I think we should also be really fair in interpreting Sean, who did multiple times emphasize that older generations and especially the baby boomers are wealthy and that the boomers are indeed going to be the wealthiest generation of retirees that we've likely witnessed in this country. And so I think there were moments he was talking about scarcity at the budget table. He's open to our talking about the wealth that exists more broadly in society.

Angie Chan (34:55):

Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yeah. The other piece though that I wanted to talk about was being patient and I get it. This is a long haul. We need to shore up all of our mental resources and energy because we can expect to take two steps forward and three steps back. But if you look at our recent history with COVID, we are also, when a problem is well defined and understood, we're able to move really quickly. So I wonder how you reconcile these two ideas. It's like, I wanna approach the work with compassion and understand that there are a lot of interests to balance and this is complex work. But at the same time, I don't wanna let ourselves off too easy. And I worry that we may have been patient for too long.

Paul Kershaw (35:39):

Well, what you're saying really resonates with me and, you know, I want to totally honour Sean's advice and take it to heart. Uh, and I think there's a realist perspective out there that changing politics does generally happen incrementally and slowly. But then sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes there's these bursts of change and I'm becoming less patient. You know, the problems of the broken generational system aren't just something we're gonna inherit in the future. They are here now. I keep getting asked, like, what's the risk, you know, if we don't do something? The risks are being experienced. There's this fine balance now between a cultural context that says, "Hey, younger folks be patient!" Versus saying, "No, we've been patient long enough. We have been relatively silent for too long. We haven't been as loud in the world of politics as we should be." And so I think Gen Squeeze is at this moment where we are aiming to say: How do we constructively tap into a frustration to signal to the world of politics that it must rapidly change to address the way that we are squeezing younger Canadians for time for money, for services, for a safe climate.

Paul Kershaw (36:45):

And I don't think we have time to waste any longer. I think it is critical that we use our frustration, use that constructive outrage, to create political cover for politicians to change the status quo in response to all the sorts of evidence that we were talking about earlier in today's podcast.

Angie Chan (37:03):

Oh, I like that last bit that you said right there, about the political cover. This theme actually has come up in a different context where it was a politician who was telling a community organization, "I want to help you, but I need you to tell me exactly what you need and make it difficult for me to not help you." And I think there's the public side of the work. And then there's the behind-the-scenes work of trying to like pave that road a little bit more for our leaders to help us.

Paul Kershaw (37:35):

Well, I think you just nailed one of the main morals of the Gen Squeeze story, which is that politics responds to those who organize and show up. And evidence is never going to be enough in the world. It's going to take the world of politics responding, because in many respects, you're making the politician do something, you're making it possible, at least, for them to be brave and respond to the evidence. And you know, maybe that's a great productive thought for us to end on today. That let's invite our listeners to express their rage and frustration constructively. They can do that by sharing this episode with friends and family. And as Sean said, our legislatures are changing, but we as voters have to keep pushing for change. So we hope you'll keep these issues of generational fairness in mind when you're next at the ballot box. And Gen Squeeze aims to have your back by doing platform analysis during elections. And you can find those analyses at gensqueeze.ca.

Angie Chan (38:28):

Okay. Paul, I know we're trying to wrap up here. I just have one last reflection to make right before he left, Sean made a nice point about how he's aware of how the issues that concern younger generations seem to be animating Conservative politics right now. And he assumes that to be happening among Liberal and NDP parties as well. And as we continue our podcast, I would love for us to engage in conversations with others from across the political spectrum, to help us understand and address the core and urgent issues of younger generations. Food for thought? So much more for us to chew on. Until next time listeners! Thank you.

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Interview with Sean Speer (Transcript)
Interview with Sean Speer (Transcript)
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Hard Truths from Gen Squeeze
Hard Truths