Candidates don’t fail to disappoint

Canadians go to the polls on October 21

Little promised for young workers

Although the 2019 election is up in the air, and no one party can really be said to stand for labour, one thing can be said unequivocally about the four candidates who showed up for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU) young workers’ forum on Tuesday night: they said words and those words often formed sentences.

The Green Party’s Dale Dewar, the Liberals’ Winter Fedyk, the NDP’s Ray Aldinger, and PPC’s Mario Milanovski all gamely showed up to the CEIU’s Oct. 8 forum at the Cure (the Conservatives didn’t bother) and they all said some things that were definitely statements (also: some stuff about gold? Weird, but okay). Not much of what was said really meant anything, but by golly, did they ever say it.

The forum was intended to get candidates to address some of the issues facing young people in the workplace, like precarious work and the gig economy, stagnant wages, and student debt. Co-ordinator Chris Strain, the Vice President external for CEIU local 40811, said that part of what inspired the event was “the lack of space that’s made for young workers [in politics].” But in the end it was painfully obvious that the “lack of space” was actually a soul-sucking vacuum that late-stage capitalism has rent in the fabric of democracy.

By the conclusion of the evening, it was clear that no one had a coherent strategy for combatting one of the most elemental problems facing young workers: the exploitative gig economy. Fedyk even suggested that young people were intentionally “shifting the work culture” because they are “more comfortable moving around in their careers” (a side note to any one of my bosses at any one of my four jobs: I, personally, am more comfortable with one of you offering me full-time salaried work with benefits).

The closest anyone came to offering a concrete plan for how to deal with the damaging effects of precarious work was Dewar, who touted the Greens’ pledge for a guaranteed liveable income, which would at least provide a safety net for workers transitioning between jobs and industries. Also, weirdly, Milanovski, who said “we’re gonna build a pipeline,” which, while having horrifying implications for the climate and also humanity, is at least a plan.

Aldinger, who spent the entire forum twisted up like a pretzel, looking bored, had ample opportunity to expound on the myriad positives of a Green New Deal (like increasing unionization, raising the minimum wage, job security, implementing UNDRIP and the recommendations of the TRC, free post-secondary, massive investment in public infrastructure projects that would provide millions of jobs while fighting the climate crisis), but, like the NDP itself, he fumbled them all, even at one point mixing up his words and calling it a “New Green Deal” which sounds like the name of the daily special at your local dispensary.

Fedyk also said some stuff and things.

When it came to addressing the staggering $28 billion in student debt owed by Canadians, Dewar pointed to the Greens’ plan to flat-out make post-secondary education free, which was a choke point for every other candidate. Aldinger mentioned the NDP’s bold plan to stop the government profiting off of young people trying to better themselves by “looking at” forgiving student loan interest. Fedyk mostly passed the buck, pointing out that post-secondary is under provincial jurisdiction. Milanovski, who thinks tuition is maybe too high, also thinks that it’s “not fair” for someone whose child is not going to university to pay for someone whose child is. He also mentioned that post-secondary was free in his native Yugoslavia in the 90s and the taxes there were “like 50 per cent,” but there were also wars and war crimes and ethnic cleansings to be paid for during that time, so who’s really to say where all that money was going.

You might be tempted to think that the winning statement of the evening would have come from PPC’s Milanovski (and he did come close when he – in heavily accented English, because he himself is an immigrant – touted the PPC’s climate plan, which is basically “fewer immigrants equals less carbon”), but it was actually Fedyk who made the most extraordinary assertion when she said that, actually, a lot of young people were “no longer interested” in buying homes, a phenomenon she chalked up to “poor asset development” and not the fact that the average minimum down payment on a house is $20,000 while the median income among 25-34-year-olds in Canada is about $38,000 – about 30-50% of which goes to paying rent on the apartments that I was recently informed we prefer to actual property ownership.

But slagging all these folks is easy – because they actually put in the work of showing up. This is more than can be said for the Conservatives, who are terrible and obviously cowards (this is my opinion and therefore not libel – I checked). What is known about them is that they couch their support for corporate interests over individual well-being in promises of cheap beer and low taxes, and they want to make it considerably more difficult for people to join and form unions, all but ensuring a continuation of the low wages and precarious work that keeps young people pinned to the mat. Their plan for post-secondary is basically to raise contributions for RESPs, which is useful only to people whose guardians could afford to sock away money for their education in the first place, boosting people who are already sliding into third.

Strain said that the forum was an attempt to get young workers engaged “so that more space is made for them and so that more attention is paid to issues that matter to them,” and if Tuesday’s Q & A proved anything, it’s that young workers will have to continue to fight to be seen by any of the federal parties. The event was not a debate, and there was no winner. But there was an obvious loser, and it’s you and me, kid.

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