All Posts Tagged With: "elections"
The Twitter generation is engaged and deserves a say
Should 16-year-old Canadians be allowed to vote? The Parti Québécois thinks so. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, speaking in London, hinted as much following a quiet meeting in Scotland with First Minister Alex Salmond, whose governing Scottish National Party plans to lower the voting age to 16 for the country’s 2014 referendum on independence.
Members of Marois’ party have indicated their support for lowering the age to 16 in the past, and countries like Austria, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil have made similar decisions over the years to combat flagging voter turnout. Considering young people are the biggest drag on Canada’s overall decline in turnout, it’s something we should consider nationally too.
Elections Canada reported 38.8 per cent turnout among people age 18 to 24 in the May 2011 federal election, well below the 75.1 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 who voted. Considering the under-25 set is told from the get-go that they’re apathetic, this isn’t surprising. Civics courses don’t help: I drudged through Ontario’s— a well-known online bird course at my high school.
The ups and downs of online polls in student elections
Sarah Petz, a reporter with the Manitoban student newspaper, is disappointed that so few of her fellow students bothered to vote in last month’s University of Manitoba Students’ Union election. “At seven per cent,” she says, “the result is not very representative.” It’s not that there weren’t clear differences between candidates. There were. The Manitoban uploaded candidate interviews to YouTube and shared them on Twitter. It wrote about issues from printer breakdowns to the construction delays on the opening of the ﬁrst campus pub. And yet, despite it all, only 1,900 of the 26,000 eligible students exercised their right to decide who will run the $1-million organization for the next year-long term.
But just because Petz was disappointed, don’t assume she was surprised. “Beyond a small group of highly active students,” she says, “no one seems to care.” Turnout is often low at the U of M. It’s not much better at the University of Toronto, where only 10 per cent of students voted this year, and worse at York University where turnout was just ﬁve per cent in 2011. But low voter turnout isn’t inevitable. Not anymore. At McMaster University, where students receive ballots in their campus inboxes that they can ﬁll out on iPads, laptops or smartphones, turnout hit 33 per cent this year. That’s up from 24 per cent last year, 22 per cent the year before and much higher than the 13 per cent turnout in 2009, back before they ditched paper and pens.
Voter turnout (%) in campus elections from 2009 to 2012
But turnout still dismal
Voters in Ontario, Manitoba and P.E.I. have re-affirmed their provincial governments—and all three of those governments ran on more student-friendly platforms than their main competitors.
Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario Liberals won a third term Thursday, but were one seat shy of a majority government. McGuinty got 53 seats, the Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak got 37 and the New Democrats under Andrea Horwath got 17. The leaders achieved, respectively, 38, 35 and 23 per cent of the vote.
McGuinty’s Liberals poured funding into universities over the past two terms, although they promised no extra base funding this time around. That’s unsurprising considering Ontario’s $15-billion deficit. What they did promise for students is the introduction of a new grant in January that will reduce tuition for full-time college and undergraduate students by approximately 30 per cent, so long as their families’ household incomes are less than $160,000. The Progressive Conservatives promised no such grants. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance was quick to congratulate McGuinty on his win.
Undergraduate Student Alliance supports plan
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that her party would freeze post-secondary tuition for four years and eliminate interest on the provincial portion of student loans if elected on Oct. 6. The NDP say that it would cost $365-million over four years.
Sean Madden, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance supports the plan. ”A freeze will save students over $300 annually, while beginning to shift the cost of higher education back to the public,” he said.
The Ontario Liberals have promised to cut post secondary tuition by 30 per cent or $730 per year for colleges student and $1,600 per year for university students. Only students from families with household incomes under $160,000 would qualify.
The Progressive Conservatives have promised to expand access to Ontario student loans.
Students: Voters in Ontario, Newfoundland, Manitoba and PEI will go to the polls in October. Saskatchewan votes on Nov. 7. Visit Maclean’s On Campus and click “Politics” for coverage.
Candidates promise tuition freezes, bursaries and grants
Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael says her party would phase-in needs-based grants to replace student loans in its first year of government.
It’s the latest — and arguably the boldest — election promise made to students by a party leader in the last two weeks. With five provincial elections this fall, leaders are busy courting student voters.
Under Michael’s plan, 8,000 students would have their tuition subsidized entirely. The program would cost $4.7-million in year one, they say.
But the NDP isn’t likely to win on Oct. 11. Corporate Research Associates (CRA), a polling firm, puts the Newfoundland Progressive Conservatives under premier Kathy Dunderdale at 54 per cent support, with the NDP a distant second at 24 per cent and the Liberals in third at 22 per cent.
The province already has the lowest university tuition fees in Canada — $2,624 in 2010-11, compared to $6,307 in Ontario. And tuition fees are a perennial issue in provincial campaigns.
In Ontario, where the Liberal party under Premier Dalton McGuinty is facing a serious challenge from the Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak, the Liberals are promising tuition grants to reduce the cost of post-secondary by 30 per cent. Hudak is promising more access to student loans for students from middle class families. Ontarians will vote on Oct. 6.
In Manitoba, where there is a two-way race between the Progressive Conservatives led by Hugh McFadyen and the New Democrats under Premier Greg Selinger, the NDP promises more funding for universities and to maintain a tuition freeze. Voters there cast ballots on Oct. 4.
In Prince Edward Island, where voters go to the polls Oct. 3, Liberal leader Robert Ghiz has proposed elimination of the interest from the provincial portion of student loans, plus a boost to bursaries. Ghiz leads Progressive Conservative Olive Crane 59 to 31 per cent, says a CRA poll.
Students in Saskatchewan can expect election promises there soon. That election is on Nov. 7.
Campus voting booths nixed
Elections Ontario announced on Friday that 27 college campus polls will be moving off campus because of the college support staff strike, making it harder for students to vote on Oct. 6.
The College Student Alliance expressed disappointment with the decision. “Student associations have been working on their campuses to help mobilize the student vote and engage the youth in this provincial election,” writes Brian Costantini, president of the CSA. “Historically this has been a demographic that has not fully participated elections. ” Campus polls were supposed to help.
Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa decided to relocate the polls because of “recent labour issues at Ontario’s colleges and the resultant uncertainly regarding the use of college facilities,” he told the Toronto Star. However, he said students will be informed of other places where they may vote.
These clowns aren’t funny anymore.
During election campaigns, anyone associated with universities hears a constant rhapsody of hope and despair about student voting. Hope that this will be the year young people finally wise up and exercise their rights as democratic citizens and despair that they will probably just stay home, get high, and play Portal 2 all day.
The normal reasons cited for not voting are usually lame and easily shot down. I don’t know any of the parties or candidates, people say, but it has never been easier to learn who the candidates are and what their positions are, so that’s no excuse. They’re all the same, others lament, but a careful look at the platforms does show discernable differences on issues like, say, corporate tax cuts and public funding for political parties. And if that’s not enough, the pro-vote gang can lay on plenty of patriotic guilt-tripping: there are people dying in other countries right now to have the rights that you are throwing away!
But in a way, that’s why I don’t really want to vote this time, and I’m sure not going to be judgemental of those who choose not to. In one sense, I agree with the democracy boosters. Democracy is a fine and noble institution, born in the fires of classical thought, educated by the enlightenment, fired in the kilns of revolution and civil war, and now, at long last, buried up to its bunghole in Canadian crap.
Democracy in this country is a joke. The leaders of the three major parties are shameless hucksters, churning out policies only to position themselves favourably with the right demographics, and crafting messages they think will resonate. They are patently unwilling to debate serious public policy questions even if they were capable of it. But real positions scare away voters and that’s not how this game (and it is a game to them) is played. And so it is that our politics, devoid of authentic debate has slid quickly and unflatteringly into scandal-mongering and name-calling. Too fearful of proposing real change, political parties bicker over the smallest details of the budget which amount to how many tenths of a percent of our money they will take and how much will they give us back.
One could, of course, vote for the Green Party, but Elizabeth May, shamblingly petite and cursed with an absurd barn-door voice, is the opposite of the other leaders. They are style without substance; she is substance without style. Still, if the Star Wars movies have taught us anything, it’s that great wisdom comes in small hilarious packages, and one could even feel good about voting for May’s Greens (as I have done in recent years) except that a cabal of TV executives won’t give her the national exposure or credibility that comes with the leaders’ debate. And even worse, her party, more than any other, is knee-capped every election by the ridiculously out-of-date first-past-the-post electoral system. And so while May herself might be a joke we could all be in on, the election results will, once again, be a joke that we’ve heard before and wasn’t that funny to begin with.
In short, the argument against voting is that it takes seriously a state of affairs that deserves only mockery. To exercise my solemn and hard-won right to vote feels wrong when the vote is counted by an archaic system that will benefit factionalists who only want to win, not lead, and whose only measure of right is what will sell.
So stop the patronizing insistence that students have to vote. Perhaps the better thing to do is to praise them for their willingness to protest by not voting. Maybe all these young abstainers will grow up to be adult non-voters. In time, the participation rate (whose fall is constantly bemoaned) will drop so low that governments will finally have to recognize that a democracy no one can believe in is no democracy at all.
And out of that despair may finally come a real reason to hope.
Student union executive who resigned running for re-election with opposition slate
The sudden resignation of a Concordia Student Union vice president on March 3 may have been pre-election posturing.
Morgan Pudwell announced her resignation with an email accusing the current CSU executive of, among other things, financial mismanagement. Last week, a CSU council meeting descended into chaos when councillors voted to move into closed session to discuss Pudwell’s resignation.
On Monday night, campaigning for the upcoming CSU elections began. CSU elections have a strong party system, candidates for the executive stand as teams, or slates, and candidates for council, who are elected individually, tend to affiliate themselves with an executive slate.
Pudwell is standing for vice president with Your Concordia and the slate has turned her accusations and the reaction to them into election issues. In an interview with student newspaper the Link, Pudwell claimed that she was only approached to stand with the slate after her resignation.
But considering the amount of work that goes into organizing a CSU election campaign, I find it difficult to believe that a slate would switch one of its vice presidential candidates less than two weeks before the beginning of the campaign. It also seems pretty clear that Pudwell’s opponents knew something was up, an open letter criticizing her was released on March 9, and signed by several members of the Action slate.
It’s worth noting that while Your Concordia may be an opposition slate, it’s hardly a group of CSU outsiders. Several members of the group, including presidential candidate Lex Gill, were elected to council last year as members of the slate headed up by the current executive.
It’s also going to be interesting to see how the Link handles election coverage, Gill and the paper’s editor-in-chief, Justin Giovannetti share a blog. While this certainly isn’t a secret, I wonder whether the average Link reader would be aware of it. Giovannetti has said, on Twitter, that he won’t be writing about the election. But writing isn’t the only area with the potential for conflicts of interest when a newspaper editor has close ties to a political candidate. (UPDATE: Link editor says steps taken to prevent conflict of interest)
What kind of mandate does a student union president have when only five per cent of students supported them?
Last week, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa held their annual elections. Voter turn-out was just over 10 per cent. The head of student elections told La Rotonde, U of O’s French-language student newspaper, that he was pleased with the turn-out, despite the fact that it dropped by almost 50 per cent from the year before, because he’d expected it to be even lower. He blamed the decline on a return to paper ballots and ending online voting.
The 11.5 per cent turnout is on the low side when compared to other universities but it’s not the lowest.
This was a close election; the president-elect won by less than one percentage point. And that’s what really gets me, one of the main jobs of student unions is representing students but can someone really represent a group when 95 per cent of the members didn’t vote for them?
Electoral rules fail to realize that students hold a dual citizenship within Canada
Electoral districts are a tricky thing for any first-time voter to navigate, especially so if that new voter has recently moved ridings, as is the case for many university students in Canada.
New Hampshire is attempting to push legislation through that would disenfranchise university students in an electoral district unless they were a resident before enrolling in university.
Currently, in Canadian federal elections, citizens vote in the district where their permanent address is located, and students who move away from home have the option to cast their ballot in their school’s riding if they can prove residency.
But provincial election rules vary across the country. The Ontario Election Act, for example, defines residency — and therefore voting eligibility — as “the place where your family resides … until you move elsewhere with the intention of making that change permanent.” Technically, any student in Ontario who does not intend to permanently move to their university’s riding would be ineligible.
On the other hand, B.C. students can “register and vote in either the riding where [they] reside while going to school, or in the riding [they] usually live in when you’re not at school.” And residents studying out-of-province can request a mail-in ballot.
But, even with these rules in place there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of clarity or enforcement when it comes to registering to vote.
Take me, for example. My first election was May 2005’s B.C. provincial election, where I exercised my right to vote. Four months later, I began my undergraduate degree in Nova Scotia and that January participated in the 2006 federal election and had the choice to vote in my new riding or my old one. In the 2008 federal election, students in my riding were turned away at some polling stations because their permanent address was in another province and were therefore ineligible to vote, contrary to Canada’s Elections Act.
In a recent interview with Maclean’s On Campus, Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance Party, explained how she would make it easier for students to vote on their campuses, saying fixed election dates are the first step.
“Once you’ve got fixed election dates, I see no reason why you wouldn’t be able to have polling stations on campuses to be able to allow for kids who are living in residence to be able to vote in the election,” she said. “We seem to have no problem setting up polling stations in other facilities where we have temporary residence, like prisons for instance.”
Smith, for one, isn’t surprised that current Conservative governments, in both Alberta and at the federal level, haven’t moved on something like this.
“I think it is probably no secret that a lot of university students tend to be more progressive in their attitudes, and they may tend to vote NDP or Liberal, or on the left side of the spectrum,” she said. “And when you have a conservative government, they see no reason to find a way to facilitate the vote.”
This logic seems to be fuelling the New Hampshire legislation, as well. An editorial that appeared in the Tufts University student newspaper on Feb. 7 calls out the bill for similar reasons.
“The Daily objects to the proposal, which was introduced by State Rep. Gregory Sorg, on several dimensions, not least that it may be a transparent attempt by Republican lawmakers to disenfranchise a liberal-leaning bloc of voters in the months leading up to the presidential election,” the editorial reads.
The paper backs up their claim with a statement made by Sorg himself: “Even if [college students] voted the way that I wanted them to, I would not want them to be voting because they would cancel out the votes of the residents of the town who have a stake in the future.”
What Sorg, and others like him, are neglecting to admit — or perhaps blatantly ignoring — is that the goal of any election is for the people to have a say in the governments that take their tax dollars and provide them with basic services, including infrastructure, emergency care, and in some ways, post-secondary education.
If I pay income tax in British Columbia from a summer job, but property tax in Nova Scotia from rent on my student apartment, I’m drawing goods and services and giving back within two systems. To further illustrate this point, I paid sales tax on my groceries and textbooks in Nova Scotia, but interest on my student loans in British Columbia. I also draw services from both provinces in the form of roads, health care, water and basic municipal services.
What any of these proposals fail to realize is that students are essentially citizens in two places at once and shouldn’t be disenfranchised in an election because they’re attending school, unless they hold stakes in two ridings in the same election. Dual citizenship between Canada and the U.S. is a good analogy of this. People who hold dual citizenship can vote in either country, both countries or not at all. They have a stake in both countries, give and take of services in both countries, and are therefore allowed to vote in both countries. Why are student populations any different?
Tuition keeps rising despite street protests
Today, students in Montreal set off smoke bombs in the offices of Quebecor, a large media and retail company who owns the Sun newspaper chain, as part of a protest against tuition increases. Last week students in Nova Scotia had their annual “day of action” protest against tuition hikes. In the U.K., tuition massive tuition hikes lead to months of protests.
Student protests against tuition increases are a regular event in Canada. Yet tuition continues to rise. Even the extremely large and sometimes violent protests in Britain failed to convince the government to change course.
Why? Because in electoral democracies street protests generally don’t work.
Certainly there are some times when street protests may be effective, the large protests against Canada’s participation in the invasion of Iraq were at least indicative of public sentiment and may indeed have have helped keep our country out of that war.
But they don’t help when it comes to tuition because students don’t vote in elections.
Contrary to popular belief, governments don’t have endless supplies of money, more funding for education means one of two things: taxes have to go up or something else has to be cut. The Canadian Federation of Students has made it clear that they support tax increases to fund education, while other student groups have at times called for unspecified spending cuts (I once asked a student politician what he thought the government should cut, perhaps health care or elementary school funding? He was unable to answer the question).
The fact is that government policy is shaped by the desire to remain in power, no party typifies this more than the federal Conservatives, while opposition policy is shaped by the goal of gaining power, the federal Liberals for instance. It is only those parties that have no chance of being elected, the Greens, the NDP and those parties on your ballot you’ve never heard of before (there are two communist parties in my riding now?), for whom ideology figures as anything more than an obstacle.
How do you get elected? You please the voters. Not the general public, not the people protesting in the streets but those people who are more likely to vote. This is why health care is a sacred cow, while international students are cash cows. Older people, those more likely to use the health care system, vote. International students can’t and their Canadian colleagues don’t.
For the same reason, taxes won’t go up to pay for post-secondary education, older higher-income people are the most likely to vote, while young people are the least likely.
If anything, protests are probably hurting the cause. Direct action has a tendency to preach to the converted, people who already think students are self-interested whiners aren’t going to be impressed by street theatre – it’s only going to reinforce their previously held positions.
Chanting catchy slogans along with a like-minded crowd is a great feeling but it’s not going to change a politician’s mind.
Student union elections sweep universities across Canada
Walking through the halls at your university will become immeasurably more difficult in the coming weeks. What was once a five-minute stroll between classes will now be furiously drawn out as you attempt to dodge the hands of literature-waving student union hopefuls and their well-wishing accomplices. What was once a library is now debate headquarters. What was once a student lounge is now an easy target for just “a few minutes of your time.” And what was once your Twitter stream is now a forum of political squabble. Yes, it’s OK to cry.
Most of the student body ignores these elections, which explains the consistently low voter turnout. But some, perhaps the inherently masochistic, actually pay attention and try play an active role in deciding their student government. Kudos to you, brave souls; may you never tire of Robert’s Rules. For the rest, who can’t bear to sit through an assembly where participants collectively and repeatedly renounce their united privilege, I have a few cheats to help you make an active decision while still maintaining some form of sanity.
Beware the Brash
The promises of “three-day weekends” and “no homework over holidays” don’t end in high school. But in university, these promises sound more like “seven weeks of Frosh,” “total elimination of meanness on campus” and “down with all fees.” It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen now.
Rah! Rah! Rah!
There are always candidates who believe ostentatious demonstrations and boorish sit-ins, also called “occupations,” are clever and dignified forms of protest. Unless you have a particular affinity for rhyming couplets, avoid.
Don’t be Seduced by Swag
Remember, you pay union dues. So while free waffles during exams might sound deliciously enticing, it often amounts to just bribery with your own money. That said, at least you’re getting some back.
Do a Background Check
Sure, previous experience on a student union is great! Just check to see if previous experience includes being named on a lawsuit or formal sanction from the university for unacceptable behaviour. I’ll let you do the Googling.
Beyond how well they manage their Facebook page, consider candidates’ attitudes towards posting official budgets online and making information easily accessible to the entire student body. On another note, I tend to avoid candidates whose online profile pictures include photos of themselves screaming into megaphones–it’s a personal choice.
Universities are ripe for mobilization because of how fast word can spread
Megan Leslie, member of Parliament for Halifax, claims that courting voters aged 18-30 is a waste of a politician’s time and that’s why most don’t engage the youth demographic. But those who do are seeing unprecedented success.
Lets take the recent win of Calgary mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi as an example. Nenshi went from polling at one per cent to winning the election with 40 per cent of the vote in two months. Mobilizing young voters is largely considered to be the catalyst for Nenshi’s triumph at the polls — not to mention the city’s dramatic spike in turnout.
While his stint as a professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University certainly made him a household name in the post-secondary circle, Nenshi cultivated, rather than took advantage, of this connection, realizing that students were key to election gold. In fact, a week before the election, polls indicated that support for him in the 18- to 34-year-old bracket had jumped from nine to 43 per cent over the course of the campaign.
And Nenshi’s not the first successful politician to venture down this road less travelled. Just two years ago, Barack Obama was dubbed America’s first “social media” president.
“I saw a lot of parallels between his campaign and Obama’s campaign. He was mobilizing youth, which [Ric] McIver and [Barb] Higgins were not focusing on,” Ashif Murani, a Calgary lawyer, told the Globe and Mail on Oct. 19.
Rahaf Harfoush, a social media strategist who worked on Obama’s presidential campaign, summed up their success in a CBC interview on Dec. 5, 2008:
“It wasn’t about new media; it was about the fact that the campaign gave new media the opportunity to become an integrated part of the communications campaign of a political campaign.
“I think it helped us to access a lot of people by giving them to tools to organize, to create events, to connect with each others and giving them everything that they needed, so that when they went off-line they were fully equipped — be it canvassing to talk[ing] to their neighbours.
“[Through the site] they had talking points to pass onto their families, videos, events in their area that were happening, community outreach programs in their state. Everything that we did was to connect people, because it was a movement that was fundamentally about people.”
The Q&A portion of Leslie’s Oct. 19 presentation at Dalhousie University touched on some interesting realities of a political future without youth involvement.
“There should be some people in their 20s [in Parliament], because we pass bills on pension changes unanimously and we don’t talk about post-secondary education and unemployment. These issues are dead in the House of Commons,” Leslie said.
Following Leslie’s presentation, Emily Smith van Beek told the Dalhousie Gazette that political neglect of young people will eventually cause the system to crumble. She also added that universities are ripe for mobilization because of how fast word can spread.
While there’s still much to be said about promoting ideas students can get excited about it, it’s clear there is so much more politicians could be doing to engage young voters. And the ability to engage this Everest of demographics has valuable benefits for those who can successfully harness it.
The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario joins One Toronto campaign to provide ‘alternate view’ of upcoming Toronto mayoral election
For months, Toronto has been rapt in the rhetoric of its upcoming municipal election and the fervor’s only escalating as the October 25th D-Day draws nearer. The most recent poll shows Rob Ford, the outspoken Etobicoke councillor who’s turned the phrase “gravy train” into everyday vernacular, has a commanding 24-point lead over next-in-line George Smitherman. And that lead has many Torontonians worried. Ford has come out swinging against wasteful spending at City Hall, promising to slash the numbers at City Council from 44 to 22, abolish the city’s fair wage policy, end the war on cars and a plethora other pledges that have left some residents panicked and running for the hills (quite literally). Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick bizarrely equated voting for Rob Ford with some sort of post-drunken-one-night-stand venereal disease, while others have hopped on an “Anyone but Ford” bandwagon, rallying to stop the privatization-pledging maniac before he ruins Toronto’s national and international reputation.
Then, Wednesday, a new campaign was launched with the help of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students. The One Toronto campaign, as it calls itself, alleges it will not be telling voters how to cast their ballots, though the message is clear even to the most credulous Toronto voters; keep the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) public, focus on arts and social infrastructure, invest in education, make Toronto more diverse—which all, loosely translated, means don’t vote for Rob Ford. If that wasn’t obvious enough, this line from One Toronto’s website makes it crystal clear:
Right now the debate is very negative, focused on what is wrong inside City Hall, and how to slash away the more and more aspects of city government. Shouldn’t we be engaged in a debate on how to ensure that City Hall plays the most positive role possible in our lives?
CFS Ontario chair Sandy Hudson was on hand for the One Toronto launch Wednesday morning. Along with former United Way chair Dr. Joseph Wong, Luminato CEO Janice Price and journalist Michele Landsberg, Hudson took to the mic for the inaugural presentation. Hudson’s address focused on voter disengagement among city youth, an old but unyielding problem at all levels of politics.
Estimations of voter turnout show that just 43.8 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted in the 2006 general election, up from 37 per cent in 2004. Though the numbers improved in 2006, youth turnout at the polls was still 19 percentage points below the national average. With youth apathy also a major factor at the provincial and municipal levels, strategists have created campaigns such as ApathyIsBoring.com and Student Connect to get young people interested in what’s going on in government. There have been other, more eccentric efforts made by our neighbors down south, including Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ 2004 “voting is cool” campaign, which curiously equated apathy with preemptive mortality (“Vote or Die!”) and Rock the Vote’s efforts to get young Americans to the polls during the 2008 presidential elections.
The logic behind these movements is clear; politicians won’t take youth issues seriously if they don’t show up to the polls. Why waste time lobbying to a demographic that is unlikely to go out and vote?
The problem is: One Toronto isn’t a campaign to get young people’s voices heard. It’s a pluralistic movement pushing a specific yet holistic vision for the city. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Hudson justifies the allegiance saying, “Students are paying lots and lots of money to go to school, so they need services that are going to be saving them money, but also helping them to get around.”
Certainly services such as the discounted TTC Metropass for post-secondary students secured this year are to the benefit of students; but just because an issue like transportation sometimes affects students doesn’t mean union fees should rightfully be allocated to a multidimensional campaign like One Toronto. Indeed, I could argue that the worn out sole of my left shoe is a student issue if it makes me late for class, but I’d be hesitant to go spend someone else’s money on an entire clothing initiative.
Municipal issues are a tough sell for student union dollars. Tuition fees are a provincial issue. Professional licenses, to practice medicine or law for example, are federally regulated. City laws, on the other hand, dictate whether you pay five cents for a plastic bag at a grocery store—it takes a little bit of extrapolation to connect that to the larger student movement.
The added fact that One Toronto so obviously supports certain candidates over others (even if it won’t name names) makes the CFS backing that much more incredulous. Dare I say–an example of wasteful spending?
- Photo by mars_discovery_district
The skills you learn in student organizations apply to the “real” world also
There’s a story I like to tell about how I took what I learned from my students’ union and used it in the wider world. Years ago I registered my own website. That’s jeffrybak.ca, which I still use today. And then I started getting messages from some organization called CIRA (the Canadian Internet Registration Authority) which I had apparently joined by registering my dot-ca website.
This happens all the time. We are all members of far more things than we typically think about. Ever buy anything at Mountain Equipment Coop? You’re a member, if so. They can’t sell to you otherwise. But we often ignore the many organizations we belong to – especially the ones we joined involuntarily. That’s why voter turn out at student elections is so low. I’d wish it were higher, of course. Perhaps we could aim for 20% instead of the typical 5-10%. But we’ll never get everybody because let’s face it, students don’t show up at a university to join their students’ union. It’s not the goal; it’s a side effect.
That was the same with CIRA, for me. I wanted a dot-ca domain and ended up a member of this organization. Then they sent out notice of a general meeting, which happened to be in Toronto, and bribed members with free USB keys and a decent buffet lunch at the Royal York to attend. Sound unlikely? If you’ve ever been to a general meeting of your union, or another student organization, I bet there was food. Student organizations do the same thing. It’s hard to get people out at a general meeting. So when you need a certain number of members in the room to conduct official business (which is always the case) bribery is one sure way to go. So I showed up.
At the general meeting, I was mostly prepared to just eat my lunch, pocket my USB key, and vote as required. I know the drill. But then a funny thing happened. Someone I know from the tech community spotted me in line and he was spitting mad about proposed changes to CIRA’s bylaws. And I realized that I was doing exactly what I often fault students for doing. I’d shown up at a general meeting prepared to blindly support the proposals on the agenda. I didn’t even understand the issues. And that was embarrassing. So I started reading really fast.
As it turned out about four hundred members showed up (far more than required) because the changes were, in fact, somewhat controversial. The leaders of CIRA were changing the way they recruited and elected directors. In other words they were tampering with the highest control mechanisms on how the organization is run. And suddenly I had strong feelings about that. So I got up at the microphone and expressed those views. I ended up supporting the proposed changes, after some serious explaining from the board and in particular from Michael Geist, but not without reservations. I was still a bit suspicious.
Young people aren’t voting, and therefore stuff is our fault
I’ve had this opinion column forwarded to me by a couple different folks now. The premise is an old one. Because young people are not participating in traditional democracy and party politics, whatever problems that may exist in the system are therefore our fault. I say “our” without fear of contradiction because Mr. Lawrence Martin has managed to define young as anything under 50 or so. Here’s his piece.
The young reject the political status quo, as they should, but they are too lazy to do anything about it. Most of the under-25s don’t even bother to vote. Instead of fighting for change, they wallow in their vanities and entitlements. Not much turns them on except the Idol shows, movies with smut humour and the latest hand-held instruments. Their disillusionment with the political class is understood. Their complacency isn’t. It will soon be their country. You’d think they’d want to take the reins.
Now with all due respect to Mr. Martin, and his very old view of politics, we moved past this level of analysis by the third week in my first year political science course. It’s well understood that young people are turning away from voting and traditional democracy. Hell, everyone is turning away from voting and traditional democracy. The numbers are down across the board. It’s just that younger demographics are down more than others. Maybe that just means we’re ahead of the curve.
What this column ignores are all the other means and venues through which young people express their views and their politics. Cause-based organizations draw all kinds of support from youth. Electronic communities and participation in web-based media has been transformative. Citizen journalism alone, for all its buzzishness, has given a level of voice and initiative to young people that they’ve never enjoyed before. Scratch the surface of any effective political action, from what’s going on in Iran to the mainstream but nontraditional success of Obama’s Presidential campaign, and you’ll find young people doing what no one has ever done before. Okay, so we aren’t voting in high numbers. Maybe that’s because we’ve become convinced there may well be something better than traditional party politics out there.
Anyway, I throw the topic out there for comments. But it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. The most amusing thing about the whole piece is that a man in his 60′s could write about how kids today are lazy and don’t care, imagine he’s saying something original, and fail to see the irony of his own perspective. Some of his points are valid and important but the tone he brings to the topic seems calculated to piss off the very people he claims to want to reach.
For the record, I do vote, and I’ve participated in mainstream politics for some time. I encourage everyone to do so as well. But I participate from a sense of obligation and a willingness to try every avenue – not from the belief that traditional party politics are the solution to our problems. I believe very strongly that new solutions will come from new means of participation and social organization. The kinds of engagement that are on the rise among the young may well turn out to be far more important than the votes they aren’t casting.
Questions are welcome at email@example.com. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.
Presidential victor disqualified for “slate” behaviour
The victors of student union elections at the University of British Columbia and Carleton University will not, pending appeals, be taking office despite winning the majority of votes in their elections.
Both candidates have been disqualified by their student unions respective elections committees. The similarities end there.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the situation at UBC.
The winner of Alma Mater Society – University of British Columbia election, Blake Frederick, was disqualified for “exhibiting ‘slate’ behaviour,” according to an email sent by AMS elections administrator.
The AMS banned slates in 2004 in the hope that it would create a more non-partisan environment at the student union. A good write-up on the factors leading to the banning of slates is available from The Ubyssey here.
UBC student politics is extensively covered by great student bloggers who have great insight and analysis of the decision. Instead of repeating what they’ve already said, I’m telling you to click the following hyperlinks (in no particular order):
- thoughts on the gathering shitstorm…, The Radical Beer Tribune (former AMS VPX Matthew Naylor)
- The Recent Disqualification and why it hurts the AMS, Maria Jogova, UBC Insiders
- The Perfect Storm, Justin Yang, The UBC Spectator
At the present time, there has not been a full airing of the evidence against or defense for Frederick in this manner. I’m not in a position to assess the validity or lack thereof in the decision by the Elections Committee to disqualify Frederick.
Based upon my experience watching AMS student politics over the past couple of years, and my knowledge of the current players, I can state there does not seem to be any partisanship in the disqualification.
The elections committee and the AMS elections administrator appear to be clean of any partisan agenda. This is important to note since Frederick is seen to be part of the vocal UBC activist community; a community which has often been seen to clash with the more centralist student body and government at UBC.
Let me be clear, Frederick is not “let’s stick it to the man and burn down society” activist. He is more pragmatic and works within the system to effect change. Frankly, if I were a student at UBC, I would have likely voted for him.
While I understand and sympathize with the motivation behind the slate ban at UBC, I do not agree with it. The slate ban attempts to address two issues that plague student politics: partisanship and the overwhelming advantage of running in a slate.
Fixing partisanship in politics? Good luck, as long as there are limited resources (and power) to be allocated in the political process, there will be partisanship. Partisanship wasn’t created by party politics and it cannot be ended by removing parties from the process.
Correcting the imbalance caused by slates in student politics is an admirable goal, but does not require a draconian ban on slates.
Instead of banning slates, the AMS should limit the amount that individual members of a slate can spend. Giving them less resources than independent candidates will help balance the playing field. The name recognition and mutual support of a slate will be counter-balanced by a lower spending limit (less posters, buttons, and other items.) for each slate candidate.
Barring that, the AMS must clarify what constitutes “slate-like” behaviour.