Justin Trudeau protest marks 'turning point' for frustrated youth

Tuesday's protests against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reflect a growing discontent with the Liberal government over affordable education and a lack of jobs for young Canadians, say youth leaders.

Students, civil servants staging rallies next week over costly education, contracts and flawed federal payroll

Youth protesters turn their backs on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he addresses the Canadian Labour Congress National Young Workers' Summit in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Tuesday's protests against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reflect a growing discontent over a lack of Liberal action on affordable education and jobs for young Canadians, youth leaders say. 

And they warn that more demonstrations are likely on the way.

Amy Huziak, the young workers' representative for the Canadian Labour Congress, said Trudeau's rough reception at a "roundtable discussion" event marks a "turning point" for the government now one year into its mandate.

"People are disappointed," she told CBC News. "Young Canadians really felt they were really left behind by the Stephen Harper government for more than a decade. Now that we're more than a year past the last federal election, people want to see change, and they need change so they can support their families and get jobs." 

Huziak expects there will be more shows of protest until there is real action by the government.

The Liberals campaigned on a platform to make post-secondary education more affordable and to help boost jobs for students and young workers. They delivered funding for several key promises in the last federal budget.

'Very frustrated'

But many youth say it's not enough, especially since Trudeau self-appointed himself the Minister for Youth. Recent comments by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who suggested youth and government must brace for high turnover and short-term contracts as the norm for the future, exacerbated their frustration.

Morneau said there's a need to train and retrain employees "because it's going to happen we have to accept that." 

Huziak said that talk of accepting "job churn" sparked massive upset.

"Young people are very frustrated," she said. "I think we were excited to have the prime minister come and speak to the young workers' summit and take questions from the floor and have a dialogue. But when we have this frustration around a precarious economy, and a lack of action around the environment and climate change, young workers are expressing themselves in a way that's going to get heard."

At a summit organized by the CLC Tuesday, protesters turned their backs on Trudeau and hollered out remarks, which at times drowned out what the prime minister was saying.

Their beefs were wide-ranging, from the environment, Indigenous rights and pipelines, to jobs and the flawed federal payroll system.

Bilan Arte, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said young people saddled with record-high debt are frustrated the government has done little in the last year to ease the financial burden and make a dent on youth unemployment.

'Incredibly troubling'

"I think it's incredibly troubling," she said. "Young people are standing up and showing this new government they can't continue this trend of ignoring what they've said."

Arte said it was "unacceptable" that the government has failed to deliver on a promise to make post-secondary education more affordable, and to make it more accessible for Indigenous youth.

Students across the country will hold a national day of action on Nov. 2 to demand, among other things, free education. The event will include a rally on Parliament Hill.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Alliance of Canada will hold its own rally outside the Prime Minister's Office Monday to press for a new contract and a resolution to the outstanding problems with the federal Phoenix payroll system.

Praise for PM

Mira Ahmad, national president of the Young Liberals of Canada, said that one year in, the prime minister has done more to support young Canadians "than any government in a generation."

"But with that said, he would be the first to say that there is more hard work ahead of us than behind us, and together, lots more to do," she said in an email. "That's where youth voices come in, and the creation of the first-ever Prime Minister's Youth Council is just one example of our prime minister's commitment to ensuring young Canadians can continue an open dialogue directly with the PM about how we can build a better future together."

The Prime Minister's Office outlined a number of youth-related measures from the government in the last year, including:

  • Creation of the Prime Minister's Youth Council.
  • Expansion of the Youth Employment Strategy ($300 million more this year) and more than doubled Canada Summer Jobs placements.
  • Launched Expert Panel on youth employment.
  • Changes to Employment Insurance making it easier for young workers to qualify.
  • $73 million over four years to support new co-op placements and work-integrated learning opportunities.
  • $105 million for youth service programs.
  • Increased Canada Student Grants by 50 per cent.
  • Changes to student loans so no repayment required until graduate earns $25,000 a year.

On Monday, about 200 protesters marched on Parliament Hill demanding Trudeau reject any new pipelines.

The protest resulted in the brief detention of 99 people, all of them issued citations by the RCMP for trespassing after climbing over police barricades near the foot of the Peace Tower.

The focus of the demonstration was the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., which the Liberals have said they'll decide upon by mid-December.


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