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What a youth panel wants to hear more about on the election trail

It’s just over two weeks to election day in Newfoundland and Labrador, and for some young voters, there are a few key issues they’re hoping to hear more about. Mary Feltham is the president of Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus student union, and ran as an NDP candidate in the last provincial election; Jordan Lawrence is from Gander, now working as as a program researcher for a youth non-profit in Bonavista; and Mackenzie Long is from St. George’s and is a student at Grenfell. The three joined CBC Newfoundland Morning as guests for a youth panel to discuss the Feb. 13 provincial election, and what they hope to hear more of in the days before they head to the polls. All three want to hear more details about how the candidates would keep more young people in the province, and have some suggestions on specific issues that could help with that goal. “Why should we stay here in Newfoundland? Things like an improving economy, jobs that will be available — sustainable and long term — access to responsible and acceptable health care in whatever region I do choose to live in in the future,” said Long. “There’s now always gonna be all these promises without cutting some services somewhere. So I do believe what we’re looking for is someone who can be honest with us, someone that will reach out, someone who cares about the youth of the province, because the youth is the future of the province. And really, I want to know, what’s gonna be able to keep us here?” The province’s aging demographic presents a number of challenges for government, and it’s only expected to get tougher, with a report saying the number of Atlantic Canadians over age 75 will double in 20 years. For Feltham, there are some practical policies that could help ensure young people are drawn to the province from elsewhere and encourage those already here to stay, such as a higher minimum wage. “I know that $15 and fairness is an election issue that youth are concerned about, because it is common for students to take on minimum wage jobs to afford schooling,” said Feltham. “I’ve had to take on three jobs at once to afford to be able to continue my education. And Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the lowest minimum wage rates in Canada, which isn’t making us very appealing for youth to want to stay if they do need to take on a minimum-wage job.” Feltham added the livable wage issue is not just of interest to young people, either, and a $15 minimum wage would help everyone. Increased wages and more opportunities for young people are ideas Lawrence agrees are sometimes lacking in the current political rhetoric, as regions suffer from “a lack of meaningful work,” creating other problems. “Something that I’d like to see is a commitment, or at least some renewed commitment, to the guaranteed annual income discussion,” Lawrence said. “I believe it would support our communities, it would enable people to have more money in their pockets to go to school, to start a home business, do something that they care about, and ultimately get themselves a bit more involved in the economy, and I believe that’s more sustainable.” It’s not a debate, it’s climate change. – Jordan Lawrence Lawrence added that putting more resources in communities to address systemic barriers is another vital topic he hopes the candidates will talk more about in the next two weeks. “I think the reconciliation piece in Newfoundland is really big with Indigenous people — especially on the island, as well as Labrador,” he said. “Addressing racism, homophobia, stuff like that in our communities is also a really big issue for me.” Maintaining a tuition freeze for post-secondary students is another step all three panellists agree would be a good way to keep young people in the province, as well as attract more people to move here. Feltham said opponents of maintaining the tuition freeze may argue it’s a cost the cash-strapped province can’t afford, but he said the return on the investment is worth it. “We are actually funding our future and we are making money, and by ensuring that there is a tuition freeze for all students — not just domestic students — we can allow for out-of-province students to come in and international students, and then they’ll be contributing to our taxes and our economy,” she said. “And they will also help contribute to our aging population and to keep students here.” Lawrence agrees. “I don’t see any argument to take the tuition freeze away,” he said. “It’s an investment in the future and we’re already talking about youth retention.… I don’t believe that it would help anybody to get rid of the tuition freeze at this point.” ‘Committing to take action’ on climate change The three feel climate change is another big election issue not getting its due attention on the campaign trail. Lawrence said resource economics have, historically, been Newfoundland and Labrador’s staple economic diet — “kind of like our bread, milk and eggs” — but something needs to change. “We don’t tend to think about the effects it has on our own environment, as well as the larger environment, whether that’s littering, a basic issue in towns, to industrial waste.… It’s an afterthought right now and I don’t think that’s gonna serve our youth. “I think the youth today are very much engaged. It’s not a debate, it’s climate change. They know it, they have more information, more access, they’re smarter, they’re quicker, it’s something they care about.” With massive demonstrations across the world starting in 2019 called Fridays for Future, including a huge rally in St. John’s, led primarily by young people concerned about the disastrous effects of climate change, it’s clearly on the minds of the province’s youth, as well. “I don’t see it getting as much attention as it deserves. I know last year St. John’s did declare a climate emergency, but I haven’t heard much on a provincial level, so I would like to see each of the parties commit to either at least acknowledging that this is an issue that we need to face and say that they will work on a plan,” said Feltham. “The first step is acknowledging that this is an issue and committing to taking action.” Long agrees climate change needs to be a bigger talking point and belongs on the forefront of election issues that youth care about. “Just as an example, I would be out grocery shopping and you hear … older people are like, ‘This weather is so great, there’s no snow, we don’t have to shovel,'” said Long. “But really they don’t understand the importance of it, and I think that it should be something that should be talked about a lot more because it is extremely dangerous.” Voters head to the polls on Feb. 13. Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Published at Fri, 29 Jan 2021 16:41:00 +0000

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