President and CEO of Desjardins Group
There will be a post-pandemic normal, but this crisis will leave long-lasting scars. As a society, we need to reconnect, put our public health system in order, eliminate the blind spots in our economy and tackle environmental issues in a real way. But for all the challenges ahead of us, how do we know if we're going to make the right choices? I've been asking myself that question for months now. It's clear that collectively we need to do better. And we can. I've concluded that the best way to do that is to ask ourselves how every decision we make will affect our kids.
We need to publicly give kids a reason to dream again. We need to think about how every decision we make in our businesses, institutions and governments benefits youth. That needs to be our benchmark.
The smart choice
We need to do this for a few reasons. First, we need to recognize that Canada's youth—our teenagers, our university students and our young workers—have been hit extremely hard the last two years. Two years of limited physical attendance at school, cancelled sporting events and social restrictions. And this at a time when young people should be with their friends, spreading their wings and learning about themselves. They've paid a high price. We've already seen troubling signs of the consequences. A recent survey from SOM, sponsored by Desjardins and Academos, found that 60% of youth said they're anxious or very anxious about choosing a career, and would rank their motivation at school a 6.7 out of 10. We've also heard it from youth organizations who are helping kids every day and have pleaded publicly for support as they're overwhelmed and understaffed.
The immediate need is clear: help Canadian youth get back on track, back to their social lives and their extracurricular activities. They need help, at school and elsewhere. They need to see outstretched hands, like from mentors in the workplace. We need to guide them as they develop.
Accepting our collective responsibility
Beyond this clear, short-term need, we need to be direct about just how big the challenges are for future generations. Look at just three examples:
- According to the Quebec inventory of greenhouse gas emissions External link. This link will open in a new window., emissions in Quebec decreased by 2.7% between 1990 and 2019. The Quebec government's target is a 37.5% reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
- Canada is an aging country. There aren't enough young people entering the workforce as taxpayers to pay for the healthcare that older Canadians will need. There's deep generational inequality in our current model.
- Average home prices in Canada have exploded over the past two years. And access to homeownership had already been a problem. How can young people today afford to buy a home and create financial security?
At Desjardins, we've been clear that we feel a responsibility towards youth, supporting thousands of kids and contributing to more than 3,000 initiatives that make a difference in their lives. The commitment that we've made to Canadian youth now adds up to almost $80 million in 2021.
The pandemic is a crisis of historical proportions, and we all want to see it end. When it does, we should make it our mission to build back better. And what better point of reference for every decision we make than how it benefits our youth?
It's a straightforward and effective principle that will lead us to make the right decisions for the environment, the economy and society at large. We need the courage and the conviction to make responsible choices—as consumers, as taxpayers, as citizens and as investors. Choices that will require more from all of us.
We can't forget that we have a responsibility to put our kids in a position where they can grow and realize their dreams. I don't think it's possible to overinvest in their future. But the least we can do is to leave them a society they will be proud to inherit.