OTTAWA – They want more money in their pockets and a deficit-free government.
They care about social programs but would a rather see a strong economy.
And they lean toward cuts to the arts, aboriginal education and the CBC.
Meet Canada’s youth – they have no shortage of opinions and they’re convinced the government is listening.
“People prefer to keep their own money,” said 17-year-old Angelo Duraisingam, from Toronto District Christian High School in Vaughan, Ont.
Today’s teens are a fiscally conservative bunch, according to an online survey of 4,425 high school students from Civix, a charity that promotes civic engagement with young people.
As part of the consultation, a group of students from Ontario and Quebec met with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last week to share their thoughts on the budget. They would have had no shortage of common ground.
When Flaherty emerged from the meeting to announce the March 21 budget, he told the awaiting media throng that it was “very interesting” to see the points of concern raised by the students.
“One of the primary concerns is balancing budgets, reducing deficits and so on,” he said, “which is dear to my heart.”
But the results may be skewed because the survey’s questions didn’t really pertain to the particular concerns of young people, said Miles Corak, professor of economics at University of Ottawa and a former labour economist.
He noted that only one question – about getting jobs upon graduation – dealt directly with the students’ immediate future.
“It’s great to get people engaged in these broader issues, but if you’re designing a budget you’d really want to explore the concerns of the young,” he said.
But given the choices the poll presented, students favoured low taxes and conservative spending. And if the government does raise taxes, the results suggest, it should be big business – not individuals or start-ups – who should pay.
A majority of respondents, at 84 per cent, wanted personal income tax to decrease, or stay the same.
Almost half, at 41 per cent, believe there should be no tax increases at all in the next federal budget and if there are, 48 per cent think they should come from corporate taxes.
Even in that respect, students are cautious.
“You kind of have to be careful who you raise corporate tax to,” said Mark Hanna, 16, also from Vaughan. “You do want to be able to have small businesses to start up, which is great for communities and great for economic growth. Raise corporate taxes but to a certain extent and to certain businesses.”
And about half believe the government should use stimulus funding in the case of another recession, but not if it means going into deficit.
“Their greatest concern was paying down the debt,” said Taylor Gunn, president of CIVIX, in an interview with Global News.
“They’ve come to realize that a $600-billion debt will not necessarily handled by you and I, it will be dealt with by them.”
Gunn added that the government’s messaging about public, household and personal debt, is evidently resonating.
“I don’t think they have credit cards yet to test that out, but they get it.”
When it came to spending priorities, however, the environment topped the list, with half the students saying spending should be increased in an area the Harper Conservatives have been accused of giving short shrift.
Almost a third of students thought spending should be decreased on arts and culture, on aboriginal communities and education, and at the CBC.
“One of the priorities for students was actually trying to get rid of the deficit,” said Duraisingam. “By cutting CBC they actually save around $300 million on their fiscal year.”
When it comes to politics, most students surveyed generally feel that Canada is going in the right direction, with western Canadians more likely to feel that way than those out east.
But the 40 per cent of teens who said they pay close attention to politics are also most likely to say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Constance Celac, 15, from Ecole secondaire Mont-Bleu in Gatineau, said she prefers the NDP, largely thanks to the party’s late leader Jack Layton. “The way he said things, the way he wanted to change things, and even if he’s not here any more…I still agree with what he said.”
According to students, political engagement is changing, due in part to education and awareness.
“The next generation is going to know more about politics than the last generation,” Hanna said.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the voting age should go down, added Sewa Adegorite, a Vaughan high school student. “I don’t think I’m ready to vote, because I’m Conservative mostly because I’ve only been informed about the Conservatives,” she said. “I feel that we need to get more information to our heads before we can do a proper, fair vote – not just based on what you’ve grown up with.”
Celac admits Flaherty probably has more influential groups lobbying for his attention. But the 15-year-old thinks the Finance Minister would benefit from the students’ advice.
“We’re young, so maybe our opinion didn’t have so much impact on the budget,” he said.
“But I would like to see if there are some things that maybe they took into consideration.”