Last week I met Dr. Paul Kershaw, a most interesting young man wearing red shoes.
He claims to be a farmer by morning and night, but by day he is a UBC professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s School of Population and Public Health, and one of Canada’s top thinkers about generational equity.
What is generational equity, you ask?
For the best answer, I recommend the website of Generation Squeeze www.gensqueeze.ca the campaign he started in 2011 to encourage Canadians 25 to 45 to become more politically engaged and increase their influence on future government policies.
He wants them to become a lobby group, like the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) which promotes and protects the interests, rights and quality of life for those of us over 50.
Why does he call it Generation Squeeze? Because this younger generation is increasingly squeezed by excessive student debt, a shortage of good work opportunities, expensive childcare costs, anxiety about mounting public debts, and of course, the exorbitant cost of housing.
Kershaw likes to point out that governments spend less than $12,000 on benefits and services per Canadian under 45, compared to more than $33,000 for every retiree. He notes that to compete for better employment opportunities, Generation Squeeze has to spend significantly more time and money than their parents’ generation to get an education.
To buy a home, they accept jobs or contracts that require years to save a down payment. For many, this means waiting longer to move out of parents’ homes, or to establish financial independence.
I suspect that many of you know exactly what he’s talking about.
I met with Kershaw to discuss the Generation Squeeze Housing Policy.
He wants to see more municipalities build affordability targets into municipal bylaws through what’s often termed inclusionary zoning. While this is happening in Vancouver and other jurisdictions, it is by no means widespread. He would also like to see a return of federal tax incentives for builders and owners of long-term, purpose-built rental housing. On this he is not alone.
He is rightly concerned about the future of affordable housing on leased public land. This includes aging developments along the south shore of False Creek, in Champlain Heights and the Fraser Lands, and thousands of other sites scattered across the country.
Kershaw would also like to see provincial governments adjust the property transfer tax so that first time Canadian buyers can be exempted from the tax for properties priced below the metropolitan median value. He would also like municipal governments to reduce municipal fees and taxes on residential properties priced below the municipal median value. More expensive properties would pay a progressively higher percentage of tax.
He would like to see a doubling of the federal government’s first-time home buyers’ tax credit, an idea he presented to Stephen Harper in Ottawa, with little success. However, he and Harper do agree on one thing, namely the need to monitor the flow of foreign investment, perhaps by attaching a residency declaration in land transfer documents.
In addition, he would like governments to subsidize childcare so households with young children would have more money to spend on housing.
While these may all seem like good ideas, especially to younger Canadians, a key question is how to pay for these programs. Kershaw told me he does not want to pit generations against one another. He maintains we need to narrow the generational spending gap only slightly, adding his ideas would raise government spending per Canadian under age 45 from $12,000 to $13,000, while maintaining spending around $33,000 per retiree.
While this may seem like voodoo economics, he argues one way to free up money for the younger generation is by addressing healthcare costs. Today 50 cents of every medical care dollar goes to the 15 per cent of the population over 65. He proposes we reduce spending by creating a more cost-effective health care system; one that focusses more on prevention than on cure.
Remember, he works in the Faculty of Medicine.
Kershaw is urging those 25 to 45 to sign up and be part of GenSqueeze. But you don’t have to be under 50 to join. If you agree with his sentiments, you might want to sign up too. I already have.