Given that most of you reading this are in the process of attaining post-secondary degrees, I am sure you will succeed as individuals. As a generation, however, our parents have burdened us with a number of challenges.
The most obvious burden that has been bestowed upon us is our national debt. While the Liberals managed to cease deficit spending in the ’90s, they were unable to pay down the growing debt. Even more disconcerting is the fact that, since the recession, the Harper government has been operating in deficit territory and will likely do so until at least 2015.
As it stands, the government of Canada’s total debt is over $522 billion, or over $16,000 per person. Unfortunately, this does not even include individual debts accrued by each province.
Adding to our future debt problems is the need to pay off our parents’ pensions. Baby boomers have listened to countless government promises to allocate money to public pension funds — and none have followed through. And so the private sector is left to provide these generous pension packages itself. In spite of this ill-contrived practice, our parents seemed happy as long as their own funds remained unscathed. The attitude towards spending seemed to be “why be fiscally prudent when our kids can pay it off?” And so, we will have to.
One solution to debt is long-term austerity. Unfortunately, the fat-cats of Bay Street and bleeding-heart unions seem united in preventing this from happening, claiming the economy is at stake. They may be right. But that still leaves our generation with a hefty debt to pay and no real room for dealing with other public policies we may need. Rest assured, over the next couple decades if exorbitant mortgages and car payments fail to empty our wallets, our governments will.
A less conspicuous burden is health care. Previous generations established the principles which ensure universal coverage and comparable service across Canada. But during the last several decades, health care costs have spiraled to unsustainable levels. In the midst of growing obesity rates and diabetes, not to mention statistics suggesting that we will not even live to be as old as our parents, Canada and its provinces are barely able to scrape together enough cash to fund our current, inadequate system.
We will need new programs and funding initiatives aimed at preventive medicine, promoting fitness and healthy eating, as well as subsidies for emerging pharmaceutical treatments.Unfortunately, there is no extra cash on hand for many of these necessary ventures. Instead, baby-boomers seem content with maintaining a system which their own failing health could eventually sink — unless considerable action is taken.
The final burden imposed upon us concerns the state of the environment. For a generation of hippies, it’s remarkable how fast our parents “sold out” and tossed their espoused ideals aside. Baby boomers have become the quintessential consumers and judging by all the SUVs on the road, they don’t seem to care much at all about the size of their ecological footprint. Although they should be lauded for their contribution to Canada’s once robust economy, our parents also built damaging industries that the atmosphere may not recover from for millennia, if ever. They then signed onto international agreements to lower emissions — like the Kyoto Protocol — and showed absolutely no leadership in actually meeting the environmental targets set out in the agreements.
Now with little funding, public attention, or political will, our generation is going to have to pay the price, in both economic and social terms. In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, our generation will need to continue the cultural shift toward individual ecological responsibility and make some serious sacrifices. Had we started in decades prior, the steps toward such changes would be easier. Now, the looming reality of an environmental crisis leaves us few choices.
I apologize if I come across as a doomsdayish harbinger of pessimism. I am, in fact, very excited about the future and all the opportunities that it presents to us. Nevertheless, I do not think I am being unrealistic in suggesting that our generation will have some serious public policy choices to make in order to maintain the qualities which make Canada such a great nation.
To this end, addressing Canada’s fiscal woes, health care issues and environmental impact will be our generation’s main challenges. How we address these issues will define our generation, just as our parents’ successes and failures defines theirs.
image: Crestock Photos