As many students across the country sit in the dog days of February mired deep in study, the opportunity that once rapped hard upon the door when school was finished packed up its bags and headed home.
This past week, the Harper government quietly went about its business in Ottawa by finally announcing a restructured "cut" to the funding of youth job centres. This workload would be now handled by a yet to be fully functioning website in place of the yearly summer employment centres that students would call upon to help connect them with employment and learn skills for when their days of study were done.
In a country where many have taken the plunge to better themselves via either college or university, this change will cut deep at the ability to cover debt and the potential opportunity is a significantly more inhibitive now. The long-awaited announcement does not come as a shock, but sadly is not surprising as the drive to work towards fiscal prudence, seeking better connection with trading partners and business involvement has again trumped the drive to commit to some youth opportunities at home.
The month of January witnessed unemployment numbers creep up with student unemployment numbers significantly higher than the average. As well, the number of graduates who hold university diplomas working to overfill vacancies is increasing. The opportunities that were promised through university life may not be the result they currently have. The abilities for students through the Service Canada Centres for Youth to address paying down debt as well as fostering connections when school life was complete is now handled through websites as opposed to quality face-to-face contact with specialists in the field.
This government is striving to lead by example as it tackles both the deficit as well as business connections worldwide to export products and services. The ask of students is the same albeit it is a mirror of life imitating art, if you will. The opportunities for students to manage debt load as well as create connections gets undoubtedly harder now that this scenario has been put in place through the closures.
Officially, it looks like the closures will save the Harper government a little more than $6 million a year. But when you look at the number of graduates that come out having not made those connections or managed debt paydowns, the cost to society may outweigh the potential savings.
With this being said the government has not completely abandoned the opportunity to engage students at that level. Obviously students seek information through other sources such as the Internet. The government does have a job site where students can seek out employment or internships. The problem is as of this announcement, the site continues to be inoperable due to a security breach. So the option as provided to students will most likely fall on deaf ears, at least for the time being.
The picture though is brighter currently for many coming out of colleges across the country as the ability to access quality internships throughout their schooling has better prepared them for the job market. As is often the case, students through these types of programs work directly in their chosen field between and during their school life and the connections exist through faculty and the community.
It’s about creating opportunity and by taking away one more chance for students to connect with potential employers undermines the abilities of the future leaders of this country.
I by no means am saying it inhibits them completely, but it makes the ability significantly more difficult when burdened with debt and the lack of fostered connections within a typically university-driven field.
Lastly, the timing of this decision could not have been worse for the Harper government as Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau is crossing the country engaging with youth in universities, colleges, drop-in centres and schools. It is clear where the son of the former prime minister’s mandate is, and engaging youth tops on the priority list, with the lion’s share of his campaign stops directed at the youth of the country. It seems a bit short-sighted by the Harper government politically to make this move as it appears the showdown is looming and surprisingly it may not be the east-west showdown some thought, but more like age vs. youth.
The government should become increasingly weary of the uprising that can occur as a result of neglecting a more vocal element of the population. They need look no further than the recent actions of Idle No More, students in Quebec or the Occupy movement to see that. As students, now with time on their hands and an ever-growing student debt become motivated, the rallying cry to support a change in action will become louder.
All this next wave of movement needs is a leader, and it appears the Harper government is playing right into that leader’s hand, whether they know it or not.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.