Provincial Budget Submission 2015

Sent February 13, 2015 to the Hon. Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance.

Dear Minister Sousa:

You’ve already heard from the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) once, alongside young people from Windsor and Toronto, but we wanted to send you something else to consider.

This year the LYAC has tackled conversations about policing, drug policy, education, arts funding, citizenship engagement, individual environmentalism, placemaking, downtown redevelopment, youth unemployment, and transit. We’ve spoken about these issues at our weekly meetings and have gone out into the community to meet with other groups of young people. We don’t represent all of London’s young people yet, but we’re doing our best to get to know as many of them as possible.

For this budget submission we want to focus on five areas that we feel passionate about:

  1. Investing in Democratized Education

  2. Investing in High-Speed Rail

  3. Investing in London’s Rapid Transit System

  4. Elevating the Arts and Culture Discussion

  5. Measuring Arts and Culture Success Differently

This submission reflects the thoughts and ideas of the LYAC’s 14 Youth Ward Councillors and is informed by the representative work that they have done in the London community this year. We want to make sure that you understand that we don’t speak for all of London’s young people because there are a lot of us! Youth opinion across London and Ontario is as diverse as adult opinion so we all have to be careful about thinking that we understand any singular ‘youth’ perspective.

Thank you for taking the time read our ideas, respond to our letter, and think critically about how to engage young people in your budget process. If you have time, we’d love to have you come down to London to talk with us and our youth constituents.

What is the London Youth Advisory Council?

The London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) exists to reboot citizenship, starting with young people in the City of London. The LYAC encourages young people to engage in critical conversations about the choices that societies and governments make. We encourage young people to dream big; to try, fail, and try again; and to rewrite the rules of their worlds.

The London Youth Advisory Council believes in rethinking government, but we also believe in engaging with formal institutions. We want you to read what we have to say, but more importantly, we want you to think about the young people who do not participate in these processes because they feel excluded from government, politics, and society.

Who is the London Youth Advisory Council?

The London Youth Advisory Council is a group of 14 elected Youth Ward Councillors. One Youth Ward Councillor represents each of London’s 14 electoral wards.

This year’s Councillors are:

Ward 1 – Cedric Richards

Ward 2 – Ashley Veri

Ward 3 – Meaghan Bennett

Ward 4 – Nicole Worozbyt

Ward 5 – Charles Muriithi

Ward 6 – Shehan Wijeyagoonewardane

Ward 7 – Melissa Zuleta Jiménez

Ward 8 – Scott Wilkinson

Ward 9 – Ali Alkadhimi

Ward 10 – Anooshae Janmohammad

Ward 11 – Cameron Arksey

Ward 12 – Wadhah Baobaid

Ward 13 – Olivia Smith Rodrigues

Ward 14 – Jess Muller

Why should you pay attention to young people in London?

We think that London has the potential to play a really strong leadership role in Southwestern Ontario but sometimes it feels like people in government forget about us. We want London to be a place where young people feel like they can build a life, a career, and pursue their interests. We want our city to be proud of its identity and to work closely with the rest of the region to make life better for as many people as possible. Right now London’s youth community has a lot of energy, and the youth political landscape is unique, evolving, and characterized by its diversity of voice (the LYAC is just one of many youth groups trying to make an impact in our community). We have a positive, engaged, and committed City Council at City Hall and we are all optimistic that London is on its way towards a strong future. We hope that the Government of Ontario is willing to partner with us to help keep the positive energy building.

Budget Priority 1: Investing in Democratized Education

We think that…

  • Ontario should invest in democratizing its education system

  • Ontario should invest in alternative educational strategies

We are thinking about this because…

Students do not feel like they have a role in determining the way that the educational environment works. Learning should be a personal growth experience, not just a pathway to a career. A democratic education system empowers students and puts them in control of their education. It makes students active participants in their communities, teaches them to appreciate the value of democracy, and leads to higher participation in formal civic matters like voting.

Students in many parts of our city continue to learn in traditional classroom settings. Some students respond well to this approach, but we think that Ontario’s education system would be stronger if the province invested in alternative, student-designed approaches to learning and in unique student-guided additions to Ontario’s curriculum.

The Ontario Government should…

  • Invest in a pilot project of a democratized school in Ontario

    • NOTE: A democratized school is a school where students are considered to be constituents of the institution; where teachers are considered to be facilitators; and where all students have rights to contribute to its policies, processes, and curriculum.

  • Invest in consultations with students to development new curricula that include new subjects

    • For example: life skills, money management, and emotional intelligence

  • Offer alternative ways of learning

    • For example: self-directed learning, increased field trips, community based education, and focus groups.

Budget Priority 2: Investing in High-Speed Rail

We think that… 

The Ontario Government, in conjunction with the City of London, must work together to implement a high-speed rails system that connects London to Toronto. Doing this will improve the province’s transit infrastructure and provide inter-provincial mobility options.

We are thinking about this because…

The creation of a high-speed rail line between London and Toronto will improve the mobility between the two cities and provide a comfortable and reliable mode of transportation. The Ontario Government has identified many positive externalities that will come from a high-speed rail system: a reduction in traffic congestion, job creation, increase in economic activity in all cities along the line, expansion and improvement of mobility options, economic and cultural linking of Southwestern Ontario. Additionally, youth within these communities want mobility options. High-speed rail has been promoted as a commuter benefit but we think that the public discussion should include the importance and benefit of high-speed rail for young people.

The Ontario Government should…

The Ontario Government should continue the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the implementation of high-speed rail system from Toronto to London. We recommend that the government directly study the current youth perspective on high-speed rail within its EA. The young people of today will be core riders of this system when it is implemented, so understanding what they expect from a high-speed rail system is crucial. The youth voice is varying and dynamic, so don’t take our word for this. We challenge the government to include as many different youth perspectives in the process so that Ontario creates a system that meets the demands of future users.

Additionally, the Ontario Government should work with local municipalities to ensure that the municipal infrastructure will be able to support this form of high occupancy transportation. In the case of London, implementation of high-speed rail will need to occur in conjunction with an expanded rapid transit system. These systems will have to work in tandem with each other to encourage the use of transit as a total transportation solution.

Budget Priority 3: Investing in London’s Rapid Transit Plan

We think that…

The Ontario Government should invest in the City of London’s plan to develop a strong rapid transit system that provides fast, reliable, and adaptable service to the citizens of London.

We are thinking about this because…

The growth of London, especially over the past 25 years, has created a heavily car dependant city. Transit had never been a top priority for the city, resulting in ridership demand that has outgrown the current transit system’s capacity. Transit is not the first mobility option for the majority of Londoners and most expect London Transit to be slow and unreliable. In London, an average transit trip takes 4 to 8 times longer than driving, so who can blame Londoners for being down on transit? We believe that providing safe, reliable, and affordable public mobility options is essential to London’s future.

The Ontario Government should…

The Ontario Government should provide London with ⅓ of the necessary funding to implement its $380-million rapid transit plan and give municipalities additional revenue tools to generate money to fund critical local infrastructure.

Budget Priority 4: Elevating the Arts and Culture Discussion

We think that…

Arts and culture, as pillars of community, social well-being, and standard of living, are just as important as any other area of provincial policy.

While not as easily quantifiable as economic or fiscal policy, the impact of arts and culture is undeniable. The opportunity for individuals and groups to gather to express and articulate their own creativity is a key factor in the overall well-being of any society. With regard to provincial policy, arts and culture should be given weight equal to its impact on community well-being.

We are thinking about this because…

Arts and cultural policy is often treated as a lower-tier policy area, despite its key role in society and enormous impact on standard of living. Because the impact is often less measurable, arts and culture rarely get the kind of funding or attention they deserve. Other areas such as economic development and finance, while important, should not be considered more important just because their impacts appear to be more measurable.

The Ontario Government should…

The provincial government should elevate the ‘Culture’ aspect of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport to the same level of discussion as any other Ministry.

If we cannot talk seriously about the role of arts and culture in the lives of Ontarians, than how can it fulfill its full potential as a catalyst for greater vibrancy and standard of living? This policy area needs to be treated with the same amount of respect as any other ministry.

Budget Priority 5: Measuring Arts and Culture Success Differently

We think that…

The benefits of arts and culture cannot be exclusively tied to its economic impact. The true benefit of arts and culture is the enjoyment, fulfilment, and self-actualization that comes from experiencing or playing a part in the creative process. This kind of benefit, while not easily measured, is something that other policy areas can rarely have an impact on.

While arts and culture do have an economic role to play, especially with regard to tourism, this should not be the key indicator of the success of an arts and culture program. The economic impact of arts and culture policy is secondary to the intangible societal benefits it provides.

We are thinking about this because…

Conversations about the benefits of arts and culture are too often tied to tourism or economic development. When discussing the merits of arts and culture, the conversation is too often framed within its relative economic impact. In Ontario, arts and cultural policy is grouped within the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. A part of this Ministry’s goal is to “provide leadership for these fast-growing sectors of the provincial economy which are fundamental to the prosperity and quality of life of Ontario citizens,” and to “help grow the creative economy”.

Arts and culture extend beyond the reach of the economy, and should be discussed outside of its framework.

The Ontario Government should…

The provincial government should work towards developing an alternative method for measuring the benefits and impact of arts and cultural programs. This approach should weight qualitative measures of community benefit more heavily than economic factors.