01/25/2019 08:14 EST | Updated 01/25/2019 08:21 EST

Young People Across Canada Deserve Better From Our Governments

Short-term-thinking Conservative politicians across Canada are selling young people short

Steve Russell via Getty Images
The Canadian Federation of Students held an emergency rally at Queen's Park to protest cuts to OSAP and campus groups that accompanied the planned 10 per cent tuition reduction at Queen's Park in Toronto on Jan. 18, 2019.

The attack on young people across this country — often from their own governments, no less — is appalling and needs to stop.

Not surprisingly, the worst of these attacks are happening right now in Ontario, thanks to the Conservative government of Doug Ford. In the past couple of weeks, he has slashed student aid and ended free tuition for students from low-income families. He has made it tougher for mature students to get financial aid and has ended the grace period for graduating students to pay back their loans.

As if that weren't enough, he did it all while cowardly hiding behind a sleight-of-hand tuition cut that will only benefit the rich, who will see their tuition cut, while those with lower incomes will now have to pay a tuition that they didn't have to pay before. All from a leader claiming to speak for the people. Really, does anyone still believe that?

Students can, and will, fight back — even though the Ford government has attacked independent student unions' essential ability to represent and serve their members by enabling students to opt out of ancillary fees such as student government.

The cynicism required to not only attack students but also their ability to push back is simply astounding, and undemocratic. This doesn't make any sense.

We aren't going to fix the problems we face as a country by making it tough for our best and brightest, regardless of their families' income, to go to school.

All this will also leave universities and colleges with less money, thanks to the tuition cut. The Ford government's response? Basically, suck it up.

"You know, nothing ever stays the same," Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton callously told the CBC.

True, perhaps, but that's no excuse for making things worse, and we need only look to Alberta as proof of that.

The NDP government in Alberta has frozen tuitions in that province for the past four years, and offered $17 million to colleges and universities to help them make up the shortfall. This is how you do it. This is how you help students with lower tuition without compromising their education in the process.

Across Canada, high tuitions and high debt levels are making it more difficult for students from lower income families to get the education they need. Nova Scotia students are paying the highest tuitions in the country, for instance, but the average across Canada is obscenely high.

We aren't going to fix the problems we face as a country by making it tough for our best and brightest, regardless of their families' income, to go to school.

There are some bright spots. The federal government, for instance, has made funding for training a major focus of its upcoming budget. This is good news, and an example the provinces should follow.

Besides universities and colleges, we need more young people going into skilled trades, particularly those from under-represented groups such as women and racialized groups. Getting a trade can be a key tool in helping address inequities in our society, and needs to be encouraged.

Watch: Doug Ford claims carbon tax would be 'total economic disaster.' Blog continues below.

Besides education, short-term-thinking Conservative politicians across Canada are selling young people short with their attacks on any effort to fight climate change.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister have joined Ford in choosing the short-term political gain of fighting carbon taxes rather than addressing the long-term implications of climate change — which will affect young people more than them.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Politicians today should be building a stronger future, not destroying the hopes and dreams of young people.

For me, this isn't just a student fight. It's a fight for the future of this country, and the kind of society we want to leave behind.

I can't speak for everyone, but I know I didn't work hard all my life just to leave behind something worse for my children and grandchildren. I think it's fair to say that most people want to leave something better for future generations.

On that, so far, we are failing — and we must do better.

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