Canada in 25 Years – What do Youth Want?

Canada in 25 Years – What do Youth Want?

When I was first selected as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation, I was excited, but also nervous.  At the top of my list of concerns was a question that’s come up in some of my conversations with the other CYDers: “what right do we have to speak on behalf of Canadian youth?”  The short answer is that we can’t in good conscience claim to represent all young people in Canada.  We can’t even claim that all Canadian youth are as determined to do something about climate change as we are, although my recent conversations have revealed that we’re a lot less apathetic than the media would like us to believe.  No, I can’t say say that I represent all Canadian youth, but I can say that when I arrive in Cancun at the end of November, I’ll be bringing messages from hundreds of young people across Canada who may not be old enough to vote, but are old enough to know that Canada could do better.  Much, much better.

Over the past two weeks, amid the last minute preparations for Cancun and my many lists of things to do or remember or pack before I go, I’ve been visiting high schools in the Ottawa area to meet with students and discuss what I’m going to be doing in Cancun, why it’s important for youth to have a presence at the negotiations, and how young people back in Canada can get involved and make a difference.

At the end of every workshop, after we’ve discussed all of the ways Canada is contributing to climate change, and all of the things that we could be doing instead, I pass out strips of cloth that I’ve torn from old sheets, and ask the students to imagine the kind of Canada that they want to be living in 25 years from now. 15 minutes later, I am the proud recipient of a collection of brightly coloured cloths that capture the essence of a more sustainable Canada: light rail, windmills, solar panels on rooftops, electric cars, cycling lanes, walkable neighbourhoods, green rooftop gardens…

The  best part is, all of these things are possible, even with no “new” spending. Our federal and provincial governments have the power to take the money they spend subsidizing the oil and gas industry and invest it in clean, sustainable infrastructure, agriculture and energy alternatives. In 2008, Canadian provincial and federal governments spent 2.84 billion dollars supporting oil production. 2.84 billion dollars!  Can you imagine if that money had gone towards supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation measures?

Government and Industry have largely dismissed calls for the subsidies to be eliminated, but even top bureaucrats in the Canadian government recommend that it’s time to end tax incentives for the oil and gas sector, and studies have shown that eliminating these subsidies would have a negligible impact on employment and economic growth in Canada.  By comparison, a recent study released by the GLOBE Foundation revealed that in 2008,  British Colombia’s “six green sectors” contributed 18.3 billion dollars in revenues to the BC economy, and accounted for nearly 166,000 direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs.  There is huge potential for the emerging green economy to become a very real source of employment for Canadian families, and it’s time for the Canadian government to get on board.

These are all points that I discussed with the 200+ high school students I have met with over the past two weeks, and by the end of the workshop, their drawings reflected the realization that there is a better path forward than the one that our Federal government is currently shepherding us along.

When I travel to Cancun, I’ll be bringing those pieces of cloth with me, and challenging decision makers to take a close look at the kind of Canada Canadian youth believe is possible.  I will be asking them to consider the vision that young people have for Canada 25 years from now, and to ask themselves how the decisions they make as our democratically elected representatives at the negotiations are contributing to making that future possible.

Stay tuned to CYDaily for updates on how this message will be delivered to decision makers.
Erica Nickels

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