Top News

'We need to encourage young people,' says CBU students' union president


SYDNEY — Mitch Ramsay-Mader’s days in Cape Breton are numbered.

The Cape Breton University student, who also serves as vice-president of promotions for the CBU students’ union, is planning to move to Australia in February to study urban planning.

He had a frank message for the island he will soon leave behind as he and other representatives of the students’ union spoke at a breakfast hosted Thursday by Business Cape Breton, formerly the Cape Breton Small Business Development Centre.

The combination of high taxes, poor levels of services — including “pathetic” public transit — and few opportunities to find employment in your field of study is the “perfect concoction” for out-migration, Ramsay-Mader said.

“A very unfortunate part of doing business in Cape Breton is that a lot of times it’s connections and not merit that hirings are based on, and that’s very frustrating and it’s really part of the predicament that we’re in,” he said.

That contributes to the desire to want to leave the island, Ramsay-Mader said. The more young people leave, the more those who are left behind also want to go elsewhere.

“I don’t want to stay somewhere where there’s no one really my age,” he said. “I want to be where it’s happening for my generation, I want to contribute to my generation, and I really don’t believe that I’m going to be able to do that if I stay in Cape Breton.”

He said he wanted to share the factors behind his decision to leave in the hopes it would help spur some change.

Students’ union president Brandon Ellis said he’s watched his friends move to other provinces because of the lack of opportunities here and mounting student debt.

Ellis said the students’ union wants to develop relationships with the local business community and has signed a memorandum of understanding with Business Cape Breton.

Ellis said he’s upset that when the province cut the graduate retention rebate — which was intended to encourage young people to put down roots in Nova Scotia — that it didn’t reinvest the money in post-secondary education, in areas such as grants or debt relief, to make things a bit easier on students.

Two years ago, as a 22-year-old, Ellis ran for municipal council, by far the youngest candidate.

“A lot of people told me at the doorstep that it was unheard of for a 22-year-old to go around and try to get elected,” he said. “We need to start better engaging young people, better getting them involved in our local politics here in Cape Breton,”

Ellis noted there has been success in getting the CBRM to move ahead with a youth council.

“We’re very excited to get young people from high schools and CBU and NSCC involved at a very young age and maybe have them run for office in a couple of years,” he said.

CBU has been successful at bringing international students to the community, many of whom want to stay here, Ellis said, but added that the island needs to provide better opportunities for them and to be more welcoming.

There are people who do want to stay here and work in Cape Breton, Ellis said, counting himself among them.

“We need to figure out how to open up these opportunities and we need to start thinking more broadly, we need to encourage young people to get involved in the decision making at the municipal, provincial and federal levels,” he said.

Sarah Hines, the union’s vice-president of finance, said all businesses will have to face the challenge of succession planning, with younger generations taking on their management, but it’s a process that is too often neglected.

Adrian White, executive director of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce, said it is the generation of Ellis, Ramsay-Mader and Hines that is going to be responsible for making some of the important changes they say are needed in Cape Breton.

“It’s an older demographic we have here in the community, speaking for myself, it’s not easy to make changes when you get older, you get set in your ways,” White said.

“But change is necessary for our survival going forward.”

Cecil Saccary, a member of the Glace Bay and area business association, said Cape Breton can’t be expected to be able to retain its young people if it doesn’t listen to them.

“They know exactly what we need, and they’re telling us, whether we like the answers or not, and that’s important because a lot of the old ways are the old ways and they have to be done away with,” he said.

Saccary said it’s important to listen to young people speak honestly about how they view the opportunities that may or may not be available in Cape Breton, even if it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

“We keep talking about the outpouring of our most precious asset that we have, and that’s the brains of these young people and their attitude and the way they look at the future, we’re losing all that because all we want to do is talk about it, we don’t want to do anything about it,” he said.

“You have to listen to them, you have to say, ‘What can we do to help?’ Waiting for government to do it, it’s not happening.”

nking@cbpost.com

The Cape Breton University student, who also serves as vice-president of promotions for the CBU students’ union, is planning to move to Australia in February to study urban planning.

He had a frank message for the island he will soon leave behind as he and other representatives of the students’ union spoke at a breakfast hosted Thursday by Business Cape Breton, formerly the Cape Breton Small Business Development Centre.

The combination of high taxes, poor levels of services — including “pathetic” public transit — and few opportunities to find employment in your field of study is the “perfect concoction” for out-migration, Ramsay-Mader said.

“A very unfortunate part of doing business in Cape Breton is that a lot of times it’s connections and not merit that hirings are based on, and that’s very frustrating and it’s really part of the predicament that we’re in,” he said.

That contributes to the desire to want to leave the island, Ramsay-Mader said. The more young people leave, the more those who are left behind also want to go elsewhere.

“I don’t want to stay somewhere where there’s no one really my age,” he said. “I want to be where it’s happening for my generation, I want to contribute to my generation, and I really don’t believe that I’m going to be able to do that if I stay in Cape Breton.”

He said he wanted to share the factors behind his decision to leave in the hopes it would help spur some change.

Students’ union president Brandon Ellis said he’s watched his friends move to other provinces because of the lack of opportunities here and mounting student debt.

Ellis said the students’ union wants to develop relationships with the local business community and has signed a memorandum of understanding with Business Cape Breton.

Ellis said he’s upset that when the province cut the graduate retention rebate — which was intended to encourage young people to put down roots in Nova Scotia — that it didn’t reinvest the money in post-secondary education, in areas such as grants or debt relief, to make things a bit easier on students.

Two years ago, as a 22-year-old, Ellis ran for municipal council, by far the youngest candidate.

“A lot of people told me at the doorstep that it was unheard of for a 22-year-old to go around and try to get elected,” he said. “We need to start better engaging young people, better getting them involved in our local politics here in Cape Breton,”

Ellis noted there has been success in getting the CBRM to move ahead with a youth council.

“We’re very excited to get young people from high schools and CBU and NSCC involved at a very young age and maybe have them run for office in a couple of years,” he said.

CBU has been successful at bringing international students to the community, many of whom want to stay here, Ellis said, but added that the island needs to provide better opportunities for them and to be more welcoming.

There are people who do want to stay here and work in Cape Breton, Ellis said, counting himself among them.

“We need to figure out how to open up these opportunities and we need to start thinking more broadly, we need to encourage young people to get involved in the decision making at the municipal, provincial and federal levels,” he said.

Sarah Hines, the union’s vice-president of finance, said all businesses will have to face the challenge of succession planning, with younger generations taking on their management, but it’s a process that is too often neglected.

Adrian White, executive director of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce, said it is the generation of Ellis, Ramsay-Mader and Hines that is going to be responsible for making some of the important changes they say are needed in Cape Breton.

“It’s an older demographic we have here in the community, speaking for myself, it’s not easy to make changes when you get older, you get set in your ways,” White said.

“But change is necessary for our survival going forward.”

Cecil Saccary, a member of the Glace Bay and area business association, said Cape Breton can’t be expected to be able to retain its young people if it doesn’t listen to them.

“They know exactly what we need, and they’re telling us, whether we like the answers or not, and that’s important because a lot of the old ways are the old ways and they have to be done away with,” he said.

Saccary said it’s important to listen to young people speak honestly about how they view the opportunities that may or may not be available in Cape Breton, even if it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

“We keep talking about the outpouring of our most precious asset that we have, and that’s the brains of these young people and their attitude and the way they look at the future, we’re losing all that because all we want to do is talk about it, we don’t want to do anything about it,” he said.

“You have to listen to them, you have to say, ‘What can we do to help?’ Waiting for government to do it, it’s not happening.”

nking@cbpost.com

Latest News