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COMMENTARY: Why Canadian Gen Zers want change and not a ‘return to normal’ post-COVID-19

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Everything that happens nowadays seems to be prefaced with dramatic reminders of just what strange times we live in.

Email messages wish us well in these “extraordinary times.” We are told just how “out of the ordinary” our lives are during this a “once in a lifetime” disruption.

But after three months, things are starting to return to a semblance of normalcy, as provinces move through stages of re-opening. There’s a sense among Canadians that things might finally be getting back to normal.

But is “normal” really what everyone wants?

READ MORE: Racialized groups more likely to ‘lose’ in the post-pandemic recovery, experts say 

Ipsos polling shows that not all Canadians are keen for a return to our old ways. In fact, half of Canadians think that COVID-19 has given us a window of opportunity to make big changes to our society and economy in order to better prepare ourselves for the future.

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These opinions appear to polarize Canadians of different generations. For instance, Canada’s youngest adult generation doesn’t want this opportunity to slip by; six in 10 (62 per cent) of Gen Zers believe that now is the time to make big changes.

However, over half of Boomers and Gen Xers want to focus on getting back to normal as quickly as possible. But is it surprising that the country’s youngest adult generation is reluctant to return to the way things were pre-COVID?

Gen Z has grown up in a completely different context than Boomers and Gen Xers. The events in these formative years have shaped an entire generation’s worldview. This generation missed out on the decades of relatively uninterrupted stability and prosperity that Boomers benefitted from. Instead, they have had to make do with living in the aftermath of two seismically disruptive events: the Great Recession of 2008 and now the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020.

Click to play video '6 in 10 Canadians optimistic about inclusive COVID-19 economic recovery, some fear others will be left behind' 6 in 10 Canadians optimistic about inclusive COVID-19 economic recovery, some fear others will be left behind
6 in 10 Canadians optimistic about inclusive COVID-19 economic recovery, some fear others will be left behind – Jun 21, 2020

If we consider that Gen Z has never known the years of stability that Boomers benefitted from and instead have been shaped by cultural events that led to broad social and economic change, then are we really that surprised that Gen Z is telling us that they’re keen for change post-COVID?

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If you thought “normal life” was carefree before the pandemic and you’d be happy to return to it post-COVID, you might be surprised to learn that a member of Gen Z would have a slightly different opinion.

That home older Canadians are now worried about losing? Gen Z was resigned to never being able to afford one. Pre-pandemic, home prices in Canada were through the roof, with average prices surpassing a half-million dollars in some urban areas.

That job that middle-aged Canadians are trying to hold on to? Pre-COVID, Gen Z was struggling to gain a foothold in an increasingly tight job market where it seemed like two master’s degrees and five to 10 years of experience was a prerequisite for an entry-level position that barely paid more than minimum wage.

And retirement? Gen Z is faced with the prospect of having to work longer, as talk of raising the age of retirement gains momentum.

Add to all this the global problems facing this generation: climate change, displaced populations, and worldwide instability.

Projected to be less well-off than previous generations, Gen Z knows they’ll also be saddled with the responsibility of rehabilitating today’s conflict zones and fishing yesterday’s plastic bottles out of the oceans for decades to come.

READ MORE: 2nd coronavirus wave could have ‘serious impact’ on economy, Bank of Canada says

Faced with a future like this, who can blame Gen Z for wanting to take this opportunity to correct what they think older Canadians have been doing wrong this whole time?

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The problems Gen Z have to solve affect the entire world, and probably underpin this generation’s interest in causes that champion inclusive change that bring the many, not just the few, up with them.

While half of Canadians are sure that there will be winners and losers in the post-pandemic world, three-quarters of Gen Z believes that “we’re all in this together” and that “everyone will be included” in the post-pandemic recovery.

Is this youthful naïveté? Possibly.

Is this a generation that passionately pursues causes and ideas that are based around making the world a better place for everybody? Definitely.

GEN Z: Global News has ongoing coverage

Before the pandemic, Gen Z-age Canadians were working with a system that had them struggling to find housing, scrambling to secure a job, and at loose ends trying to save for retirement.

We should not be surprised that they do not want to return to this normal. Rather, they want to take this opportune time to make large-scale, systemic changes to a world they see as broken.

But it’s not just for themselves, they want everyone to come along for the ride.

Chris Chhim is an account manager with Ipsos Public Affairs in Monteral and Haley Jones is a research analyst at Ipsos Public Affairs in Toronto.

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