Youth Perspectives | Welcome to the Polls
by Helen Lam
Age 19, 2nd Year Bachelor of Social Work, York University
YouthREX Youth Research Assistant
On May 7, 2018, four YouthREX Youth Research Assistants attended a youth-focused town hall hosted by Laidlaw Foundation, TVO, For Youth Initiative, and Twitter Canada. There, leaders from three of Ontario's political parties described their platforms and answered audience questions. In this blog, Helen Lam shares her thoughts on the experience as a young person concerned with housing and the tone of political debate in Ontario.
Being 19 years young, I will cast a vote for the first time at the upcoming provincial election. I seek to be thoroughly informed before arriving at a decision. On May 7, 2018, I was fortunate enough to attend the youth-focused town hall where the candidates presented their views to, and answered questions from, young Ontarians.
Critics of our justice system declare the juridical process overly rivalrous. Perhaps the same remark can be applied to the political system. Debating is a central activity in politics. In my opinion, debates should generally be pleasant experiences. Instead of vile arguments, they should be conversations with another human being - another soul, who has emotions, stories, and dignity. I agree with Kathleen Wynne’s statement that social media have heightened people’s ability to attack each other anonymously. Facebook Timelines today are inundated with hurtful comments full of personal judgement. I wonder if political campaigning really necessitates adversarial drama. For example, when the host asked Andrea Horwath if she would high-five Wynne for how she handled the sex education curriculum, Horwath instantly shrugged off the question, even though she approved of the changes that Wynne had implemented.
I believe that political discussions ought to consist of more listening and openness, as these and defending one’s values are not mutually exclusive.
A specific issue that stood out to me is housing. Stepping into adulthood, this will be a concern for me in the near future. I remember that, earlier in the year, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty rallied to urge Mayor John Tory to take action on homelessness, as Torontonians were sleeping out in the cold. Different candidates have different intentions for how to address the housing crisis. Disappointingly, Doug Ford was absent; if he had been at the event, I would have asked him to promise to refrain from turning the Greenbelt into a housing area. This is because destroying the protected green space to build residences is not worth the sacrifice. A major factor of the housing problem is the unreasonable level of market speculation, which Horwath mentioned she would eliminate by taxing properties owned by those who do not earn income. I am skeptical of how realistic such a goal is, but it seems attractive. As well, Horwath is keen on filling the “missing middle” in housing arrangements. I am on board with this plan because I think that developers must stop producing only single-detached or high-rise homes, since an enormous fraction of homes in Ontario have several empty bedrooms, while a significant one-eighth of the population is underhoused. So, I favour the construction of alternatives for financially low-status households.
In addition, we need better inclusionary zoning legislation than the ineffective laws that the Liberals created this year (that advantaged developers disproportionally), if we wish to curb the gentrification epidemic. Shelter is a basic need in life. It is ridiculous that, today, finding a roof under which to rest is nearly mission impossible here in Toronto. Our real estate economy is seriously twisted in this aspect; it is not supposed to be so incredibly hard to shelter ourselves. Indeed, housing is a locus of tremendous classist oppression that remains highly dominated by corporate interests.
Mike Schreiner advanced interesting housing proposals, too. He said that the Green Party defends laneway housing. A laneway house is a miniature dwelling attached to the rear of a principal home, drawing services from the main unit. I think that it is a clever way of working with the housing stock already in place, and far eco-friendlier than Ford’s original scheme. Another advantage of laneway housing is that it causes pedestrians to feel safe walking in laneways. Reflecting on laneway housing, it suddenly occurred to me that houses do not have to be large! Small houses can serve their function well. This concept reminded me that we should learn from Indigenous peoples, as I thought of the Tiny House Warriors project that Indigenous activists started in Secwepemc. Let us never underestimate the power and usefulness of a tiny home.
Nonetheless, I understand that the Green Party’s agenda probably contains some pipe dreams, at least for the time being. Schreiner was a crowd-pleaser, with applause echoing throughout the room when he spoke. I feel that, similarly to how people are beginning to scrutinize the undertakings of the New Democratic Party because it shows potential to be the official opposition to the Progressive Conservatives (or even win the election), citizens will closely examine the feasibility of Schreiner’s platform if the Green Party garners enough popularity to emerge as a political menace to other prospective leaders. However, despite doubts that arise from this party’s ambitious visions, I foresee that it will gain more supporters in years to come. Youth whom I interviewed stressed climate change as a pressing issue.
It brings me hope to know that there is an elevated awareness among millenials and teenagers that we have an obligation to care for the earth that nurtures us.
Overall, I am grateful for the Laidlaw Foundation’s effort to promote youth civic engagement by facilitating this gathering. It is a chance for youth to voice our concerns. At the same time, we understand that the politicians are under pressure, with numerous demands to satisfy. Wynne explained that sometimes Group X makes a request that is in immediate conflict with Group Y’s request. Throughout a politician’s career, there are likely many regrets and uncertainties. Personally, I have worries about each party’s platforms: How harmful of a deficit would Horwath put Ontario into in improving the affordability of childcare to the extent that she pledges? Would Ford implement the policy of parental consent for “underage” abortions without consulting the province’s women? Would Wynne step up her support for people with autism? I think that political practices should have greater transparency. This would allow our society to evaluate the positive and negative outcomes of selecting a party to manage the province based on correct facts and truthful predictions. After all, honesty is the best policy!