Addressing the need to recognize kids doing extraordinary things

In the words of Tom Mulcair, “We have left the largest economic, social and ecological debt in our history in the backpacks of the next generation and we want to change that.”  I want to change that.  It is most profoundly unfair.

Each month in this paper, you will find a photo of the ‘Beaches – East York Youth of the Month.’ It may be an individual or it may be a group of kids.  What they’ll have in common is a history of extraordinary activity that makes them worthy of public recognition.

In one sense this is a political – but most assuredly not partisan – initiative. It arises out of my belief that one of the great shortcomings of our politics has been a planning horizon that stops, dead, at the next election and often falls short of that.  These politics exist in spite of our full knowledge of crucially important long-term trends and planning horizons that require the attention and intervention of government. To my mind the three most obvious are climate change, the baby boom and urbanization.

We have had fair warning since at least the 1980s that our activities on this planet were warming the climate with potentially catastrophic social and economic effects.  A Liberal government signed onto the Kyoto Accord – good. And then, through almost 14 years of government, 13 as a majority, they let greenhouse gases in Canada rise substantially, from 600 to 727 megatonnes.  Their Conservative successors seem not even to believe that we have a problem.

The baby boom we’ve known about for even longer.  And yet successive governments have failed to consider and account for the implications of this demographic fact – healthcare, economic, fiscal and income support.  For healthcare, the solution implemented by successive federal governments, has been downloading.  The provinces now bear 80 per cent of what was once split evenly – just as boomers enter their senior years.

Finally, our cities.  For 40 years or so, the economic forces of a global economy have reshaped – physically and socially – cities around the world, including ours.  Over this same period, successive federal governments shoved our cities into this transforming fray.  They have disavowed responsibility and only rarely helped our cities.  They have left cities and the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in them with an infrastructure deficit approaching $200 billion and only local resources to contend with global forces.

If politics is to organize around a more appropriate horizon, then it is clear that politicians must engage those whose futures lie on that horizon.  First Nations – quite appropriately – talk about planning seven generations ahead.  I have set a more modest planning horizon – today’s kids – and more modest means – recognition.  My previous efforts at youth engagement, including a Youth Advisory, have, admittedly, fallen flat.

So, I have arrived at this conclusion: let the kids take their own lead.  Be there to follow their lead and from time to time help clear the path for them.  Let them take on challenges that engage them. Let them pursue what issues interest them. But most certainly, be there to recognize and cheer on those who do so in an extraordinary way.  Please join me in celebrating the initiative of some extraordinary kids in our community.

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