A Crisis of Confidence


A crisis is coming. It will be like nothing we have seen before. It will be a crisis of confidence and a lost hope, one manufactured by the privileged elite. For the first time in a long time, our children will have to accept a life where they will be worse off than we were. Worse yet, given that Ontario’s Gross Domestic Product keeps growing, this is an unneeded tragedy. 

I learned the value of hard work early as a son of industrious Portuguese immigrants. This value is part of the lives of many “new” Canadians.

Like others, my parents bought into the Canadian dream. They believed that if they put in an honest day's work by sacrificing, scrimping and saving, they could build a better life and set a great example for their sons. They thought this would ensure their grandchildren would also repeat the cycle.

What this meant for me as a young man was mornings on the farm, lessons at school and more work in the evenings. It meant part-time jobs and helping neighbours. It kept me grounded as an honest, law-abiding member of the community. These were my keys to success. Not a day goes by when I don't attribute this to the lessons my parents taught me.

We were told there was opportunity and success available if we just “went for it.” We all had a chance at this dream. As Ontario and Canada prospered, so did we. Our ideals matched those of our growing province and nation.

That said, I also knew that not every family was like mine. Many obstacles and tragedies can come up to take away from this idea. Still, society developed on an upward path of security and wealth for most people because of what individuals and governments invested in that growth.

Now, times have changed…and not for the better. 

I have three kids that I want the best for. I'm worried about what awaits them. My eldest is in university, the next in Grade 12 and the youngest has just entered high school. Education is expensive, jobs and opportunity are scarce, and the social safety net is tattered.

But even with this, my children are lucky. They are fortunate that both my wife and I are employed. With our jobs and salaries we can ensure they are well cared for while they get their education. They have a strong platform to stand on. Many others in Ontario do not share their good fortune. Many, often through no fault of their own, are not in stable situations during these trying times.

It is not unusual for thirty-year-olds to be moving back in with their families. I recently read in an article that said 60 per cent of austerity-ravaged thirty-year-olds in Italy are living with their parents. As a result Italy’s birth rate has plummeted to one child per family.

Mired in debt, with no prospect of long-term, meaningful employment, the young are losing faith in society and our political system. When this happens bad things are just around the corner.

Make no mistake. With a loss of faith we will all suffer through lost incomes, opportunities, lives and a sputtering economy. When human beings have nothing left to lose, civilized society is put at risk. Then, even the rich will not be able to build fences high enough to protect from them from conflict. 

This growing tragedy was well planned. It resulted from tuition hikes, a push towards part-time and precarious work and attacks on collective bargaining and unions. Added were pressures for higher retirement ages, erosion or termination of some pensions and legal changes to public old age security benefits. This adds to the forces pushing all of us towards a low-wage, low-interest economy. This has its desired impact. People now work harder and longer than ever before for less money. 

Jobs are never created in a world where corporations can sit on trillions of dollars of "dead money." Without a modern industrial strategy, millions of young people sit on the sidelines as the economy generates wealth for the few rather than the many.

Talk about lost productivity. Talk about waste. 

In addition, the burden of caring and providing for adult children and (in some cases) aging parents, leaves many employed with less disposable income to spend in the economy. So, by design, we have inertia. Without retirement security, older people stay at work while the young wait on the sidelines for their chance at jobs. 

Canada is a rich country. Politicians used to say that of all of our resources, our children were the most precious. I agree.

Never mind about oil pipelines, tar sands and mineral exports. It's time to demand growth and opportunity for all of Ontario’s kids. We should put as much effort into putting our children through the education process to good jobs as we do scheming about how to get oil from Alberta to an ocean for export. That’s the kind of pipeline we could all support. And my parents would also agree with the effort. 

In solidarity,

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