When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables his federal budget this Thursday, Austen Zentner will be watching closely.
The Grade 10 student in Aberdeen, Saskatchewan wants to see if Flaherty took his advice.
“I want to know how the government is spending the money that is going to influence me and my future,” he told Global News.
Zentner and his fellow social studies students were among more than 4,400 across Canada to participate in a budget consultation facilitated by Civix, a non-profit group dedicated to engaging young people in the political process. Students gave Flaherty the survey results in January, and several met with him in Ottawa last week.
Paying down the debt topped the list of budget priorities, with 41 per cent of students telling Flaherty to put it first. But students were also worried about what prioritizing debt reduction would do to their other spending priorities – environmental protection and post-secondary education, among others.
“If the debt is high, they have to cut funding to certain programs like post-secondary education,” said student Jordan Florizone. “So then we have to pay more and we couldn’t get as good an education.”
“I would like to see more money and more funding go to post-secondary education and education past high school,” Zentner added, “so the next generation and generation after will be able to get good, high-paying jobs.”
Saskatchewan students are much more confident they’ll be landing those jobs compared to their compatriots elsewhere in the country.
They were most likely to say the local economy is getting better and that they’ll find a job that interests them, according to the survey.
“I know what I want to do when I get out of school and I know how to reach my goals so … I’m pretty set,” said Alyssa Button.
Her classmate, Zentner, was a little more cautious.
“The job market right now is pretty sketchy in a lot of areas,” he said. “With proper post-secondary education I should be able to find a job that is going to pay well and I’ll be able to do a job I want. Hopefully.”
That optimism is well-founded, according to a University of Saskatchewan professor.
“Somebody from Saskatchewan will tell you it’s the best place to live,” said Ken Coates. “There is fairly broad-based economic strength going on.”
Over the past five years, Coates said, things have turned around for young people in the province: There are more jobs and generous student loan forgiveness programs.
“It’s a message from the government that there are opportunities for you here and we want you to stay,” he said.
For all that sunny outlook, however, Saskatchewan teens are leery of dealings with foreign companies and governments.
Students in the locus of the PotashCorp. takeover showdown were among the least likely to think foreign trade benefits all parties –only those in Atlantic Canada more skeptical. And some have picked up the “value-added” mantra of a country concerned by its reliance on raw resource exports.
“We are sending out so many of the products that aren’t finished, but when they are finished they are sent back at such a high price that it is really becoming difficult for us just to get the necessities we need,” Button explained, sitting in her Saskatchewan classroom.
The tussle over PotashCorp., a flagship Saskatchewan company whose hostile takeover attempt by BHP Billiton was quashed by Ottawa in 2010, appears to have had an impact on Canadian teens.
The survey shows many students across the country are somewhat wary of foreign takeovers, with one-third saying the federal government should make the final call on whether deals can go ahead. Thirty-six per cent said if a foreign company is trying to purchase a Canadian company that was partly or fully owned by a foreign government, Ottawa should block it.
“They should probably stop it and keep the jobs in Canada,” Button said. “The generation that is growing up benefits when we get out into the workforce.”
With files from Elton Hobson.