By ERIN ANDERSSEN and MICHAEL VALPY
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jul. 1, 2003
It is a generation of myth-busters, these Canadians in their 20s. It's also a generation rewriting the idea of the Canada-to-come and dropping a set of prickly challenges in the laps of governments and other social institutions.
The myths they have buried? Canada, quite simply, is not a country in search of an identity, contrary to the polemics of poets, pundits and professors. It's not a country continually on the verge of something but never quite there. Canadians are not a people who have nothing in common except their diversity.
All that has been made irrefutably clear by Canada's newest adults.
They have remarkably similar values, as The Globe and Mail's New Canada series has demonstrated over the past three weeks. They have attitudes and an approach to life that markedly distinguish them from young Americans and young Europeans.
They are pursuing democracy in the workplace and in marriage. They are a global generation, committed to issues of tolerance and social justice. <bf> <nm>They are a generation led in so many ways by its women. They are, of course, the best-educated generation the country has ever produced, possibly the best-educated generation of young adults in the world.
Look at them on the streets. Love is bubbling across racial and ethnic lines, and the Canadian post-ethnic identity is on its way to reality.
Look into Quebec. You'll find young adults turning their backs on separatism.
Look elsewhere in Canada and see a generation embracing a pan-national identity with an affection and a fervour not seen in the country for decades.
And always keep this in mind about them, because it is the generation's most significant characteristic: They are not a sudden sociological phenomenon; they are a generation whose values have evolved from those of the generations preceding them.
The challenges they present?
The Globe's New Canada series identifies 10 issues where the generation can be expected to show dissatisfaction with and challenge existing government and institutional policies and cultural norms.
1. Global, with attitude
Canada's newest adults want a country and a political leadership that mirror their own values of responsible global citizenship whether it concerns the environment, foreign aid, peacekeeping or combatting AIDS.
They're not happy with what they see.
Good global citizenship, former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy said, "is something we once had a patent on." But much of that image has been lost, he said, and when the country does take a position like signing the Kyoto accord or staying out of the war on Iraq "it is not very well communicated."
Of the three prime ministers he has watched take office in his lifetime, 24-year-old Ben Parrin says he has never heard one of them define a clear foreign policy for Canada.
Mr. Parrin, executive director of The Future Group, which sends young Canadians overseas to help with problems like child trafficking, wants Canada to be a consistent leader on issues like the international land mines treaty; streamline its military to be effective peacekeepers again; and stop resting on the "borrowed capital" of past accomplishments. "Empty words mean nothing to the people on the front lines of the greatest tragedies in the world."
2. Tricky relations
As the Canadian and U.S. economies are converging, Canadian and American cultural values are diverging. Indeed, young adults in the two countries tend to hold quite opposing attitudes on collective social responsibility and materialism. As a writer in the British magazine Spectator noted recently, Canadians are the Venus to the American Mars.
"Using language of integration sets up red flags" for government and business leaders, said Fen Hampson, head of Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Relations. "What you have is a big flashing orange light saying 'Proceed with caution.' "
Axel Bernabe, a 29-year-old lawyer from Ottawa now working in New York, has had a lot of debates with his U.S. colleagues about Canada's stand on the Iraq war, same-sex unions and decriminalizing marijuana. He's been struck by two things: how conservative the opinions of others are compared to those of Canadians, even in a liberal city; and how Americans seem to respect an independent stand, even when they disagree with it.
"If we look like we're toeing the line continuously, Americans take us for granted," he said. But by being more independent on foreign and social policy, "then when we make a concession on the economic front it's viewed as a concession. We get more respect."
3. Beyond multicultural
Nearly 35 years ago, Ottawa mandarin Bernard Ostry gave shape to the Trudeau government's multiculturalism policy. "We saw it as an integral part of Canadian history," he said. Just as the French language, religion and law had been protected in 18th-century British Canada, so other cultures would be protected in modern Canada.
Now the time has come to look at where Canada is going, Mr. Ostry said. "The environment of 1970 is not the environment of 2003. We did not conceive of an environment of globalization."
He proposes a royal commission to study how global migration and new economic patterns are altering Canada, and what the implications will be what the rationale might be for protecting French in a province like British Columbia where the dominant language after English is Chinese.
This is the point made by young people like Ajay Chopra, a 27-year-old East Indian now working in a truly Canadian blend of cultures on Phil Fontaine's campaign to lead the Assembly of First Nations. "We should promote French and English," he said. "But we need to realize it's not just French and English any more."
4. Inspiring the vote
If Canada's 20s only one in five of whom voted in the last federal election have misplaced their sense of electoral duty, University of Manitoba political scientist Brenda O'Neill suggests it is at least partly because they've grown up with governments that make more noise about cutting programs than about providing them. "The flip side is 'If you're giving me less, don't come and expect something from me,' " she said.
Other problems: Young adults don't think governments or political parties are responsive to issues that concern them; they think much of partisan politics lacks substance; they look at the Liberals' domination of Ottawa and other parties' domination in some regions and see no point in casting a vote.
The country, Prof. O'Neill said, may finally need to start thinking about electoral reform. Elections Canada is also trying to develop Internet voter registration in time for the next election. Another suggestion: Lower the voting age to 16, so teachers can try to interest their students in participating.
Ultimately, said Sylvia LeRoy, a 27-year-old research analyst with the Fraser Institute in Calgary, politics need to focus less on internal wrangling and more on open decision-making. "It's not a sexy issue," she said. "But we need to make democratic reform an issue of national importance."
5. No more left-behinds
Canadian 20s are more likely than older generations to support government action on social problems, according to a survey conducted by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada and The Globe and Mail. Hugh Mackenzie, head of research for the Canadian branch of the United Steelworkers of America, knows the ingredients of the economic left-behinds: highly educated immigrants who can't use their credentials in Canada; far fewer options for young people without postsecondary education; aboriginal people unable to break out of poverty.
"The social implications are pretty well-documented," he said. "Clearly, there is a cost to the economy: These are the people who are homeless and at the food banks."
For Kathleen McKay, a 25-year-old youth co-ordinator for the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, the focus is education getting parents to push it, and trying to keep a consistent roster of teachers in the classroom as role models, to send the message: "Once you have an education, you can go in so many different avenues."
6. Tolerance: Not just talk
One of things that most irritates engineering student Angelina Eghan is how Canadians her age feel the need to somehow let her know they're not racist when they strike up a conversation, but then squirm if she attempts to point out the problems she still sees like how it's still painfully obvious when the seat next to her on a Halifax city bus is the last one to be filled.
"People feel that just by disagreeing with anyone of a different race, they'll be labelled a racist," said the 25-year-old daughter of Ghanaian immigrants. "And that's made it really hard to have an open discussion about discrimination."
It's not that Canadians don't see racism; in the CRIC-Globe and Mail survey, two-thirds said they believe it is still a problem. But University of Victoria sociologist Francis Adu-Febiri said young people like Ms. Eghan will be less willing to accept it as the status quo. "They were born here," he said. "They see themselves as involuntary minorities [unlike their parents] and full Canadians."
7. Flex time or else
This generation is demanding not requesting that workplaces allow them to integrate careers with family and personal lives. Many 20s are children of divorce and family-time famine, sensitive to not repeating the mistakes of the past. Many will have to care for their aging parents. And many are young women who expect to be successful at both careers and parenting.
"This generation is in the driver's seat," said Nora Spinks, president of the Toronto-based consulting firm Work-Life Harmony Enterprises. "They can make demands and expect their demands to be met because of the pressures of the shrinking labour force."
Employers who drag their feet on flexible work policies will quickly find themselves losing valuable knowledge-economy workers, warns a blunt study commissioned by the Canadian Policy Research Networks.
Toronto high-school teacher Stephanie Higginson, 27, points out that only 12 per cent of women CEOs have children, while 60 per cent of men do. She sums up her generation's and her gender's mood: "We're stuck with trying to make an old system work, and it's unsustainable."
8. Rewriting the vows
Canadian 20s inhabit a world of unprecedented high expectations for educational achievement, for success and indeed for marriage. "Society's expectations for everything have skyrocketed," said Prof. Berna Skrypnek, a specialist in human ecology at University of Alberta. Parenthood is delayed as the workplace demands higher and higher educational qualifications, and the search for satisfying jobs takes longer.
"We have so many more options and we have to exhaust as many as possible before settling down," said Kiren Handa, 29, now finishing up her MBA in Toronto and planning a November wedding. "My 20s were about me."
But marrying later doesn't remove the pressure. While young women no longer rely as heavily on a husband to be a good financial provider, Prof. Skrpnek said, they now have high and "probably unrealistic" expectations their spouses will be supportive emotionally and on laundry duty. This may explain why a Statistics Canada survey in 2001 found women significantly more likely to bail on a bad relationship than men.
9. Where the boys are
More girls graduate from high school than boys. More girls win scholarships than boys when, just a dozen years ago, it was the reverse. More girls than boys seem to know where they're going when they leave high school. More boys just . . . drift.
It's become a hot pedagogical topic to wonder if Canada's school curriculums are as appropriate for boys as they should be. Charles Ungerleider, a professor of education at the University of British Columbia, suggests it's cultural chickens come home to roost: that women are expected to be more focused, and therefore are, while there's greater tolerance for varied male behaviour. Still, he acknowledges, "There is a general panic about boys."
The people not panicking appear to be the boys themselves. Like Hamish Rhodes, 27, who planned to attend art school after graduating high school, but instead followed a girlfriend north, and now manages a wildlife resort in the Yukon. He shrugs and grins: "I'm taking a longer path."
10. The educated rovers
Credentialled young Canadians are the most willing to go beyond their borders for prosperity and career advancement, despite an attachment to their country equal to that of older generations, a Heritage Canada study found. But when a nation raises one of the most educated populations in the world, it should aim to reap the benefits. In a 2002 survey by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, providing jobs for the best educated was the one area among quality of life, good standard of living and equal opportunity where the United States was seen to perform better than Canada.
Darren DeCosta, 29, a portfolio manager in San Francisco who left for the United States three years ago, said it isn't just a matter of competitive salaries, but also valuable experience. "Everyone in their heart wishes they were at home. But there are just so many other opportunities in other places and it's really, really hard to pass up."