While newly elected Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole may be hoping to be a prime minister for youth for his party, that is both a tall order and an important goal.
Polling suggests that the Conservative Party came a distant third behind the Liberals and the New Democratic Party with the youngest cohort of voters. To try and rectify this, many of O’Toole’s policies have been geared toward appealing to young voters and students.
For cash-strapped students struggling to find and keep work, and for those worried about the state of the economy in the years to come, O’Toole’s promises to resolve Canada’s economic problems and help small businesses stay afloat and expand are appealing.
However, given O’Toole’s platform, the Conservatives still have a long way to go before they can expect to snag the youth vote — especially a financially burdened student population.
Tax breaks for whom?
Whenever politicians of any party make grand announcements and big promises, it is important to read between the lines. There are always potential negative and unintended consequences that politicians do not want to talk about in regard to their policies, and O’Toole’s platform is no exception.
Take, for example, the offer of $100,000 worth of tax breaks for new graduates. Given the number of students and recent graduates under 30 years old who are earning below or not significantly above the current tax thresholds, it is likely that only the wealthiest and highest-earning graduates will be able to fully take advantage of such tax breaks.
The fact that this tax break would only be available for those under 30 years old is discouraging for mature students. At closer examination, this proposal might not be as helpful as advertised.
Wrapped up in red tape
O’Toole’s other advertised policies of cutting red tape and aggressively handling government debt also require reading between the lines and looking at how such appealing rhetoric has manifested itself elsewhere in Canada.
What is described as “red tape” for small businesses often takes the form of important regulations about what can and cannot be demanded of employees. While work, especially for students, is increasingly precarious, there are still many protections in Canada’s Federal Labour Code that students employed in federally-regulated industries can rely on, such as mandatory notices of termination and the right to file complaints against abusive employers.
A bill passed by Ontario’s provincial government in 2018 — branded as “cutting red tape” — froze the minimum wage at $14 and cut statutory sick days.
It is important that young people get clarification on what exactly O’Toole means by cutting red tape, because, like in Ontario, vital employment protections might be rolled into the tape that needs to be cut.
Dealing with deficit at the cost of services
Similarly, past experience in Ontario has shown that rising government debt and deficits are often used as reasons to make severe cuts to government services. Ontario’s universities and students have suffered greatly from spending cuts to education and youth-related services — cuts justified by mounting debts in the province.
Given that O’Toole has repeatedly stated that he thinks taxes are too high — and has made promises to reduce and repeal several taxes — the debt reduction he promises will likely have to come out of cuts to spending.
And given the scale of Canada’s current budget deficit, those cuts will have to be severe.
The Conservatives’ headline policies may be greatly appealing for some, but they show the importance of reading between the lines of political promises. While O’Toole’s ambitions may be bold, he has a lot more to prove before he deserves the moniker of prime minister for youth.
Martin Concagh is a fourth-year political science student at New College.