by Sylvain Comeau
The provincial government is neglecting young people, speakers at a panel discussion charged last week.
The speakers will all be delegates to the upcoming Sommet du Québec et de la jeunesse, a youth "summit" to be held February 22 to 24 in Quebec City. They said that the event only begins to address the problems of our increasingly troubled young people.
"We voted to attend the summit despite misgivings that the government would use it to push their own agenda, including winning conditions [for separation]," said Daniel Baril, president of the Féderation étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), the largest student organization in the province.
"We feel that the government is ignoring those who will take the place of the baby boomers when they leave the job market and go to Florida to play golf."
He said that school drop out rates are the FEUQ's greatest concern, and the top item they will bring to the table in Quebec City.
"The government is allowing large groups of people to fall below a minimum subsistence level. They hope that 80 per cent of young people will graduate from high school. Have they decided to forget about the other 20 per cent?"
The FEUQ will also pressure the private sector to meet its obligations. "We're going to ask them to make sure that internships are not just a disguise for precarious, badly paid jobs. And we want interns to be given meaningful work, not photocopying and fetching coffee."
Louis Grenier, a youth co-ordinator at the Regroupement québécois des coopérateurs et coopératrices du travail (RQCCT), said that his group will be asking for more support services for young people, not just for those with obvious, visible problems.
"It seems that teenagers don't exist unless they've attempted suicide, or take drugs or alcohol," Grenier said. "We need support services for the developing teen, not just for the troubled teen."
"It's about time that we have a debate, both inside and out of this summit, on the problems facing young people," said Martin Koskinen. He is president of Force jeunesse, an umbrella group of 11 organizations representing young workers and professionals. "Young people should take this opportunity to seize the media and speak out."
Koskinen says that Force jeunesse "will be asking for laws making it easier for more young people to unionize. We are concerned about the precarious financial situations of young families. That's why the birth rate is so low."
His group will also ask the government to get more serious about attacking the debt. "Young people are the ones who will have to pay the bill for expenditures and decisions in which they had no say, that were made by earlier generations."
Jacques Théoret, youth co-ordinator of La Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), said that young people need help to succeed in both the private and public sector. "We are going to ask that young people be given the same rights that workers had 35 years ago: the right to unionize."
As for the public sector, "Today, it is practically impossible for students to start a career in the public sector. It's easier to become an astrophysicist than a blue-collar worker."
Théoret called for demonstrations and protests outside Quebec City's Palais des Congrès, where the summit will be held. "If some of the delegates were scared to step outside, that would put pressure. We need people to work both on the inside and out to effect change."
The panel was organized by students as part of their coursework in the School of Community and Public Affairs.
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.