THE BLOG

The Middle Class I Grew Up With Is Gone. But We Can Bring It Back

03/09/2017 11:48 EST | Updated 03/09/2017 11:50 EST

It's time we began talking about the real state of the middle class when, in the city of Toronto, more than 50 per cent of the population are working an endless cycle of contract work.

An urban worker recently told me that everyone he knows is just one bike accident away from poverty.

Justin Trudeau is perpetuating a myth about the middle class.

Justin Trudeau is perpetuating a myth about the middle class. In reality, it has devolved into a new working class that is both white collar and blue collar -- a world defined by massive levels of student debt, sky-high housing prices and the perpetual cycle of short-term contract work without benefits.

Just that other day I was talking with a university professor who is working the endless cycle of underpaid contracts unable to support her family. Twenty-five years ago she would have been the symbol of white-collar, middle-class success. But now she is part of the new economy where people are being left behind.

2017-03-07-1488916659-9964269-anguslakeshoremine1.jpg

When it comes to the middle class, Justin Trudeau and I come from very different places.

My parents were the children of miners. Going to university wasn't an option. They quit high school and got jobs. When my Dad was 40 he finally had enough money to go back to school and eventually became a professor of economics at a community college.

We moved to a town house in Scarborough -- seven people, three generations in a little house, but they could afford the house. They took the TTC to work every day.

That [middle class] world that I came from is gone. It was systematically dismantled by successive Liberal and Conservative prime ministers.

Our neighbours worked at the many factories dotting Scarborough or in the white-collar offices that served them. Those jobs provided pensions, the weekend and the ability to buy homes. These families knew that their children could pay for a university education just by holding down a summer job.

That was the middle class.

But that world that I came from is gone. It was systematically dismantled by successive Liberal and Conservative prime ministers who told us that shipping jobs offshore while giving tax breaks to the wealthy would benefit us all.

2017-03-07-1488916773-5500982-PlantingDreams21.jpg

There is no greater proponent of this ideology than the present prime minister. Look at his huge tax break for those "wanting to join the middle class."

Under the PM's plan, someone making $50 to $100 an hour gets the biggest break while those making $23 an hour or less get zero. Maybe the PM thinks that bankers and cabinet ministers are the struggling middle class? Maybe he just doesn't know families struggling to get by at wages way less than $23 an hour?

I got into politics to speak for those who have been left off the political and economic map of this country. And over the years I have seen more and more people being left behind. The prime minister's Bobby McFerrin "don't worry, be happy" code of economics just doesn't cut it.

It's time we called for more rather than continuing to be told to accept less.

Unless politicians start to talk honestly about real issues, more and more people tune out the political bafflegab.

A healthy economy is like a healthy eco-system, requiring balance and diversity at every level. It's time we restored some equilibrium. I will focus my efforts on ensuring that government policies redress this imbalance.

The single biggest culprit of temporary contract work in Canada is the federal government. These policies of deliberate precarity need to be addressed.

The federal government also provides billions to companies in subsidies, loans and investments. It's time these dollars were linked to creating stable jobs. You want money from the feds -- you better commit to ensuring jobs and training.

2017-03-07-1488916817-5599954-CharliewithStudentsOttawa1.JPG

And we need to tackle education. Burdening this generation with the costs and debt of being ready for an ever-changing workplace is no way to build a 21st century economy. This is underscored by the fact that the workplace is about to be upended by massive automation.

The middle class was eroded away by a series of deliberate political choices. We now need to begin making the deliberate economic choices that will turn a precarious generation into a truly creative and empowered generation.

It's time we called for more rather than continuing to be told to accept less.

It's time we started to dream big again and its time we fought to make it a reality.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

Also on HuffPost:

Canadian Provincial Economic Growth, 2015-2017