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B.C. remains the Left Coast for a new generation: poll

OTTAWA – The next generation of British Columbians is keeping true to its Left Coast roots when it comes to their views on politics and the economy.

They’re also more worried than young people anywhere else in Canada that they’ll be stuck without jobs – at least, none in this country.

Young people in Canada’s westernmost province are more likely to lean leftie on issues ranging from taxes and health care to the environment, the size of government and the economy, according to a nationwide poll conducted by Civix, a charity dedicated to promoting youth civic engagement.

Overall, the poll suggests Canadian teenagers are fairly fiscally conservative, with budget-balancing as a top priority. They wanted to keep taxes low and to target new spending at paying down the debt, promoting economic growth and protecting the environment.

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“They have listened to or bought into the messaging that has come from both the Ministry of Finance and (BoC) governor Mark Carney and others about the dangers of public debt, household debt, personal debt, they get that,” said Civix president Taylor Gunn.

But teenagers in B.C. were the outliers in many ways.

At 59 per cent, young British Columbians were most likely to advocate increasing corporate taxes. More than a third of the teens think the rich weren’t taxed enough – a rate higher than any of their peers.

“What the government should do is give tax cuts to small businesses and tax the big corporations more,” said Taha Keyvani, a student at Vancouver’s Pattison High School. “Canada has lots of opportunity for small business industry rather than large ones, which are mostly Americans and they are mostly just taking our money and spending it in their country. If we invest in small businesses we are keeping the cash flow in the country so that is better for our economy.”

British Columbians were also more likely among to want more spending in health care (45 per cent), education (60 per cent) and environmental protection (57 per cent), as well as social assistance and the arts.

They were also more willing to spend on economic priorities: Forty-nine per cent would increase spending on generating economic growth and the same proportion supporting increased innovation spending.

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Across Canada, pluralities of students believed spending should be increased on protecting the environment (50 per cent), education (45 per cent), innovation (43 per cent), and generating economic growth (41 per cent)

Students are more likely to believe spending should be decreased on the CBC (31 per cent), arts and culture (33 per cent), and aboriginal education and communities (28 per cent).

“I don’t like spending, I like investment,” said Keyvani, a self-identified aspiring entrepreneur. “What government has been doing was just borrowing money from people and spending it, but they didn’t think about how they were going to get that money back. Because if we don’t get it back there is going to be a debt on the next generation.”

Debate in the province is raging over whether B.C. should take on the environmental risks of the Northern Gateway pipeline that would feed fuel from Alberta’s oilsands to the Pacific Coast.

The province’s students appear to be decided on the issue: Half say the benefits don’t outweigh the risks, compared to just 41 per cent nationally.

They are also among the most uncomfortable with Canada’s dependence on fossil fuels. “We need to stop taking the oil out and destroying the environment because it has already been damaged so much. We need to stop the oil industry and move it to clean energy,” Keyvani said.

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“It’s dangerous,” added Keyvani’s classmate, Nazgol Abrishami. “We are going to live in [the environment] for a long time and we have to care about the next generation. If we die, what’s the point of having a job?”

But for all the lefty sentiments, B.C. students are also the least optimistic about their job prospects: A third of teenagers in the province said they are not confident they will find a job that interests them within Canada – more than any other province.

Keyvani thinks he’ll do okay, but the government has nothing to do with it.

“Thanks to my dad and my family I think I already have a job, helping my dad running his companies,” he said. “Hopefully one day I’ll start my own company, my own brand.”

Students may have good reason to worry, says Ron Kneebone, a professor of economic and social policy at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

“B.C.’s labour market really has not recovered very much from the last recession,” he said. “[Economists] look at the employment ration in B.C. and that is well down from its peak pre-recession and it hasn’t come back.”

The fierce competition for available jobs could also be a factor in students’ apparent pessimism, says Ken Coates, a professor in the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.

“It attracts a lot of people from around the world,” said Coates, who is also the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation. “Vancouver is the hottest job market in Canada.”

Coates said students grow up knowing that the job market will be tough and their parents know their kids won’t be moving out any time soon. 

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