Umair Muhammad is the Knowledge to Action Lead at Generation Squeeze, a Canadian organisation dedicated to promoting the rights and wellbeing of younger generations. In this blog, he sets out the lessons to be learned from recent elections in the province of Ontario.
The wrong sort of record
On 2 June, a record-setting election took place in Canada’s largest province of Ontario. Unfortunately, the record that was set is the kind not worth celebrating: the election had the lowest voter turnout in the province’s history, with only 43 percent of eligible voters turning up the polls.
For those of us who are concerned with intergenerational unfairness, the problem of political disengagement poses a serious challenge. Making headway against intergenerational unfairness will require well-functioning democratic institutions. It will require sustained political engagement from all generations, especially young people.
The body that oversees elections in Ontario does not publish age-related voting data, so we don’t have a detailed picture of the youth vote. But there are clear signs that young voters sat out of the election.
The implications are dispiriting not only because Ontario is home to almost 40 percent of Canada’s population, but also because the last few years have seen the problem of intergenerational unfairness grow significantly.
Ontario’s housing crisis
This has been particularly apparent, as Generation Squeeze has documented, when it comes to the issue of housing. Since 2018, Ontario has experienced perhaps the worst decline in housing affordability in its entire history.
As is typical of North America, most Canadians own the homes they live in. But with Ontario home prices increasing by a staggering 44 percent during the past four years, young people trying to enter the housing market for the first time are increasingly finding themselves locked out.
Average home prices in Ontario would need to fall by CAD$530,000—or 60 percent—to restore affordability for a typical 25-34 year-old earning a median income. Alternatively, average full-time earnings would need to increase by 150 percent to CAD$137,000 per year.
An unhappy fate for young renters
The reality is that incomes have stagnated while home prices skyrocket. More and more young people are therefore forced to remain renters, which would not be such an unhappy fate if rents were affordable (they are not!).
Of course, out-of-control house prices are not unique to Canada. The pandemic years have been witness to a similar trend across the developed world. But the issue is especially intractable in Canada because, as a country where most people own their homes, efforts to reign in house prices can be interpreted as an attack on the wealth-accumulation strategy of the majority of people.
The financial interests of the (mostly older) segment of the population that has already achieved the goal of home ownership are therefore aligned against the (mostly younger) people who are not yet home owners.
Giving young people a reason to vote
The recent election in Ontario indicates that young people are reacting to the intergenerational unfairness built into Canada’s housing system with disillusionment and disengagement. This is understandable enough. If politics is not working for young people, why should they bother taking part?
But here’s the problem: not taking part in politics will only make it more difficult to ensure the interests of young people are prioritized. We therefore have to work hard to counter political disengagement if we want to maintain serious hopes for addressing intergenerational unfairness.
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