The job market is tight, higher education expensive, and the environment is a high-priority concern on Canada’s 150th birthday.
But the young people interviewed about their country’s future were still optimistic about how life will be 50 years down the road.
In the year 2067, Canada will turn 200, and the Red Deer teenagers interviewed for this article will be in their late sixties.
They already feel the onus is on their generation to turn the tide on climate change, help balance this country’s economic and political disparities, keep the freedoms Canadians take for granted, as well as the country’s spirit of tolerance and inclusion.
“I think this generation is going to be the difference. A lot is resting on our shoulders. If we don’t make change, then we’re all going down the wrong path,” said Sarah Hubert.
The 16-year-old from Red Deer feels people her age are more willing to accept scientific evidence of human-caused global warming. “We can’t ignore it.”
Cheyenne Lightning, 18, agreed with the sense of urgency, saying once the ozone layer is gone, “we’ll have nothing left to protect us” from harmful solar rays.
Like many of the other teenagers, Lightning wants to see Alberta become an innovator and job simulator in the sustainable energy field.
Tessa Basler, 19, thinks we should create renewable energy from the clean incineration of garbage. “That’s something we’ll never run out of.”
None of the young people interviewed think Canada can continue to rely heavily on non-renewable natural resources over the next 50 years.
Jace LeBlanc, 16, feels more diverse employment opportunities and retraining programs should be available to people who can no longer find work in oil and gas.
As other jobs are lost to technology, Thea Grieman, 16, feels employment should grow in fields in which the human capacity for intelligence, insight, creativity and reasoning can’t be replaced — such as scientific research, artistic innovation, education, medicine and public service.
The teenagers collectively expressed concern about the high cost of higher education, especially since well paid jobs don’t always result from degrees. Grieman believes the government needs to subsidize a greater proportion of university and college tuitions, as it is done in European countries.
With a widening gap between rich and poor, Connor Wilson-Bedard doesn’t think the private sector has been very responsible in taking care of ordinary Canadians. He thinks government needs to ensure profit-hungry corporations don’t take advantage of workers.
Does he foresee four-day work weeks? “It depends on the wages — if people are paid enough to survive,” said Wilson-Bedard. He’s among the students who believe all Canadians need to be paid a sustainable living wage if this country is to prosper.
The 17-year-old, who was in government care before being adopted, also wants to improve Canada’s too-little-monitored foster care system based on his own experiences in an abusive foster family.
Basler, who has more or less lived on her own since age 14, has barely scraped by on $1,000 monthly government assistance cheques. She believes Canada needs to take better care of its young to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks.
Basler and Wilson-Bedard would like health care and mental health care programs to be more consistently available across the country, so people don’t have to move to gain better access to the help they need.
All the young people interviewed think highly of Canada’s welcoming spirit.
Although a couple of the teens mentioned having to compete for minimum-wage jobs with recent immigrants, even they feel this low-birth rate country needs to continue accepting people from other nations — especially those fleeing poverty, war or discrimination based on gender, religion or sexual identity.
Nico Contreras, 15, who arrived as a two-year-old refugee from Colombia, feels Canada will continue to offer many opportunities. He sees himself as a global citizen who’s proud to live in a nation that’s an international role-model for freedom and tolerance.
At the same time, the students believe there’s room for improvement.
“Canada needs to do better — especially in terms of First Nations reconciliation,” said Grieman. “We’re kind of stepping in the right direction, but it’s a long road ahead.”