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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Face the nation: Canada remade

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jul. 6, 2003

Toronto — Look at their faces. This is the Canada we are becoming.

See our photo gallery

It is fashioned by the now-grown children of immigrants from 210 countries, who are blending the roots of their past with the nation of their future. And by the young women who are outpacing their men in education, ambition and social vision, who have become the keepers guardians? of our national character.

And by the couples who take love where it finds them, blind to the stale divides of race and religion and gender.

The 3.9-million Canadians today in their 20s defy a label.

They are the most fiercely educated generation ever produced by this country, yet evidence suggests that what drives them is not corporate success or material gain, so much as the goal of a balanced life. They are skipping election day in alarming numbers and lack faith in Ottawa, but they still expect a common fix for social problems and a state that will pay for day care, social housing, and nursing homes. They have abandoned religion, but place a premium on finding a spouse who shares their moral values. They see still big-picture racism, but not the color of a person's skin. The women brace for a glass ceiling the men no longer notice. And for all their worshipping of American Idols, they think and live — more distinctly than ever — like Canadians.

There is one label they do carry: they are the most deeply tolerant generation of adults produced in a nation known for tolerance. They were babies when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed in the rain on the lawn before the Peace Tower, and now, as adults, they rank that piece of paper far higher than their parents do as a source of pride in their country. They live, as one young woman observed, what their parents had to learn.

They are the latest draft of a work in progress, a reflection of the Canada their parents began constructing half a century ago.

Beginning today and through to July 1, The Globe and Mail will present a portrait of this newest group of Canadian adults, exploring how they came to be and how they will shape the country that raised them.

Globe writers and photographers sat down with their families at dinner, attended their weddings, visited their workplaces, poked into the inner workings of rural small towns and urban centres, brought high-school graduates of the 1990s together for reunions, attended university convocations and examined the generation's sense of civic engagement.

The Globe — with the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, and the Canadian Opinion Research Archive — extensively surveyed 20s Canadians and their elders on their idea of Canada, their thoughts and attitudes; dug deeper, with the assistance of Statistics Canada researchers, into the treasure trove of the country compiled in the 2001 census; and analyzed much of the academic research undertaken on this generation at universities across the country.

What emerges is a society no Canadian over 50 could have recognized as a child — a complex place, and not without shadows. Too many in this young generation grew up in poverty and too many have failed to leave it behind. New immigrants do not make the same economic progress their predecessors did decades ago. Canadians can sometimes be better at talking about tolerance than at changing the status quo. While young aboriginals are making progress in trade school and college, they still lag behind non-aboriginals on getting a university degree.

The gap is widening — in life choices and income — between Canadians who make it to university and those who don't. At the same time, some 20s are discovering they've been inappropriately educated for the workforce they're encountering — two many undergraduate degrees, too few electrictions and plumbers.

This is what the census and polling reveal:

Canadians in their 20s are the smallest group of young adults in decades, accounting for only 13 per cent of the population. They have abandoned the country for the city in swarms, completing an urbanization that now has half the population living in the greater metropolitan areas of Vancouver, Edmonton-Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

They take on the traditional trappings of adulthood about a decade later than their parents did: the average age to move away from home is now 27 years old, and it is more often young men who are staying.

They are a highly educated lot: In 30 years, the proportion of Canadians in their 20s with a university degree has more than doubled, to 18 per cent in 2001, from 8 per cent in 1971. The number of twentysomethings in school has increased by more than 50 per cent, and the largest gains have been made by young women, raising questions both about the future nature of work and the future prospects of young men.

Those without skills or education find themselves outside the walls of Canada's new knowledge economy, trapped in low-paid jobs and financially unable to start adult lives or even find the money to upgrade their job-market qualifications.

They are not voting. Just 21 per cent of 20s Canadians marked a ballot in the last federal election — a harbinger, political scientists warn, of the generation's political behaviour as it ages. This is the result not of apathy, experts suggest, but ignorance and alienation: There are those who don't know and don't care how the system works, and those who do know and think it works very badly.

What is clear is that Canadians in their 20s do not see traditional political institutions as the route to change or progress. Raised in the years since the Charter, they have a higher trust for the courts than for the federal government. They put their faith in what they see working: While politicians have stalled on issues that young people support — from gay rights to the decriminalization of marijuana — the courts have stepped in and made rulings.

They are the most likely to believe that the route to change lies with advocacy groups, not political parties. They are global in outlook. with the Internet as their public square.

They are also less involved in another traditional institution: the church. In 2001, 21.4 per cent of 20s said they had no religion, compared to 6.4 per cent in 1971. If they do attend a religious service, it is far less frequently than their counterparts of an earlier generation, and the deity they worship is less likely to be Christian — a result of the country's increasing ethnic diversity. The Muslim faith, for instance, wasn't even counted separately in the 1971 census; while its followers are still a relatively small number, it has made a leap since then to become the second most reported religion among 20s.

Just two decades ago — the point at which the Statistics Canada began tracking visible minorities through the census — the percentage of people in their 20s who belonged to a visible minority group was less than 5 per cent, roughly the same as for the whole population. In 2001, the number has tripled to more than 16 per cent, compared to 13 per cent of all Canadians. And their composition is different: the largest group among visible minorities in their 20s are South Asians; the largest for the population as a whole are Chinese. A sign of Canada's now varied origins: In 2001, the census tracked more than 200 individual countries; in 1971, it asked about only 60.

The growing diversity of 20s, and the fact that they are likely to live in the most multi-ethnic centres — the nation's cities and universities — has led to a steady increase in the number of mixed couples. The census looks only at intermarriage by race, not by ethnicity; but one in 20 young Canadian couples fits even this narrower definition. Mixed couples are more likely to have a university education, and are most often someone from a visible minority group married to a white Canadian. In Vancouver, the city with the highest rate of intermarriage, the census puts the number of mixed couples at about 13 per cent of all pairs in their 20s.

And for the most part, these are not choices made in adversity: These couples are proud of the unions that are creating post-ethnic identities, and relatively free of concern for their children's futures. Said one groom on the eve of his wedding: "My mother cannot see the country that I do."

One in six Canadians in their 20s are immigrants, and one in five are the children of at least one immigrant parent. More than half of the second-generation immigrants, as they are known, live in Ontario. By education, they are some of the most successful Canadians of their generation, pushed by working-class parents who were determined to see a better life for their children.

What is remarkable is how quickly immigrants buy into the Canadian way of life.

2 ROBTv Workopolis