POLICY WORKING PAPER #5
Why do less than 25 per cent of voters between the ages 18 to 25 bother to vote in elections? What do young voters make of the NDP? How will they shape the future of politics in this country?
To begin to answer these questions, we need to really understand that the real world young British Columbians live in is not the world the baby boomers grew up in. Some young people with the right set of job skills and personal characteristics do very well, and as the baby boom retirement wave starts to take effect in the next few years, employment opportunities should increase. But the reality for the majority today is that employment opportunities tend to be concentrated in low-wage, part time positions, usually in the unorganized service sector. In many smaller communities, new employment opportunities are often extremely scarce, reflecting increased mechanization in traditional resource sectors, and the centralization or downsizing of many service sector jobs, including jobs in the public sector.
The school system and the mass media do a thorough job of telling young people that their life prospects will be very poor without a good education, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to be accepted into post-secondary programs. Students frequently acquire a large debt load pursuing a university degree or technical education, but often find that post-secondary qualifications are by no means a guarantee of a good job.
Many traditional NDP concerns, such as reducing exploitation in the work place and protecting the environment, continue to be very relevant. And many policies of the Liberal government have had an extremely negative impact on young people. But to just be the voice of opposition will not likely be very productive. To be a truly relevant political force, the new NDP must do a better job of understanding and representing the values, vision and style of young voters.
Rising university and college tuition fees are a huge issue for BC students. The NDP government tuition freeze has been replaced by massive annual fee increases. Average university tuition fees will increase by 30 percent this year, on the heels of last year’s very significant jump of over 25 percent, with even greater increases for college students. A new government will have to deal with the impact of recent tuition fee increases, and develop an ongoing strategy to deal with tuition fees in the future.
A tuition fee strategy needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy designed to ensure that access to post-secondary education is not a function of family income levels, parental support or residence in larger centres. The provincial government needs to work closely with post-secondary institutions and the federal government to ensure that all government provided assistance, including debt-management, is biased toward improving access. In this context, some programs, for example the federal Canada Education Savings Grant, should be re-structured.
Post-secondary education options -- including skills training and apprenticeship programs, as well as college and university spaces -- need to be increased on an ongoing basis to ensure no qualified young person is denied training because of lack of capacity.
At the same time that tuition fees and student debt levels have been skyrocketing higher, the Liberal government has made entry level employment less rewarding, and saving for post-secondary education much more difficult. The $6 per hour training wage is unfair, has had no discernable impact on youth unemployment, and should be eliminated immediately.
The working conditions of the vast majority of young people are governed by the Employment Standards Act.. Getting employment standards legislation right should to be a high profile priority for a new government.
Ways to improve the extremely low rate of participation by young voters need to be considered. As a way to focus the attention of high school students on the value of political participation, the idea of extending the provincial voting franchise to voters younger than 18 should be put on the public agenda as one worth considering.
Young British Columbians are perhaps less likely to be comfortable with making trade-offs between the environment and the economy. We need to understand the lens through which young people view environmental issues, and communicate with them taking into account those perceptions.
The youth of today are more aware than ever before of the global community, and, due to the cosmopolitan and international nature of this province’s urban centres, the young people of British Columbia are especially aware of the diversity of the world around them. Much of the political discourse of this province neglects this social reality, and therefore alienates a large segment of the young voting public. The new NDP must strive to relate to the concerns and needs of a young, urban, and multicultural public often unfamiliar with the historical political culture of the province.
Please send comments on the Campaign for Change policy working papers to [email protected] before