All Posts Tagged With: "Vote"
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.
More people are pushing youth to vote. Will they listen?
Much like during the run up to federal election that happened in May, campaigns to encourage youth to vote in the five provincial elections happening this fall are popping up everywhere students look.
The question is—will they work?
Elections Canada has not yet released details on voter turnout by age from the 2011 federal election, but overall voter turnout was up just two per cent in 2011 over 2008 (from 59.1 per cent to 61.4 per cent). In other words, it looks like the rock-the-student-vote campaigns failed to get the big results they aimed for. The 2008 turnout for youth aged 18 to 24, by the way, was 37 per cent.
The failure to boost turnout much in May hasn’t stopped political scientists from creating campaigns like U2011: Understanding the Manitoba Election project. U2011 has tried to spur interest with several events that connect the public with experts on issues including women in politics and politics in Northern Manitoba. The team also created VoteAnyWay, a social media campaign aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds, which enlisted several Manitoban celebrities for video pleas asking youth to vote.
But will cringe-inducing PSAs like this riviting “poem” by Gail Asper really motivate youth? ”Even if you got small pox / you can still go check that box / If politics gets you dejected / maybe you should get elected,” Asper enthusiastically rapped on the steps of the Manitoba legislature. She deserves credit for having courted 2,500 views on YouTube. But other celebrities’ videos, like Fred Penner and Rosanna Dearchild’s joint plea, haven’t exactly gone viral with only a couple hundred views.
Bartley Kives, a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press, offers a more convincing argument as part of the paper’s Democracy Project: ”People all over the world do not have the opportunity to vote because they live under dystopic, tyrannical regimes. They are dying attempting to vote. Therefore, if you do not exercise your right to vote, you’re kind of spitting in their faces and telling them they’re dying for no reason,” says Kives in his video. He admits he was inspired by Rick Mercer, whose video during the federal election got 58,000 views. But few youth could have heard Kives’ video. So far a grand total of zero people have shared his video on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.
Nationwide, the Vote With Me project similarly proves that making your message available for sharing on social media doesn’t mean people will necessarily bother to share it. The campaign asks voters to not only get themselves to polling stations, but to bring one friend—and to take the Vote With Me Pledge promising they’ll drag that person along. As of publication, only two Manitobans, one voter from P.E.I., one from Nfld. and 15 from Ontario had taken the pledge.
Student Vote tries to interest elementary, middle and secondary students across the country in the electoral process. Too bad they haven’t reached voting age yet.
And no round of campaigns could be complete without a flurry of student advocacy groups making videos. The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance created this vote rap video, which may rival Gail Asper’s for artistic merit, though it has an even smaller viewership so far.
So, why aren’t students paying attention?
Jennifer Black, a University of Manitoba arts student, thinks voting is important and that’s why she took part in a Vote Mob at the University of Winnipeg in the spring. But even she doubts the effectiveness of such campaigns. The vote mob got a lot of attention from the media, but she felt it was preaching to the converted. “We all got together and made each other feel good that we’re voting,” she said. But shouting “just go vote” doesn’t really motivate anyone, she says.
When student unions do create more specific campaigns, it’s almost always about tuition fees, says Black. “Everyone has to pay tuition fees, generations before us had to pay tuition fees,” she explains. “It’s a little patronizing—it’s as if we don’t have the capacity to grasp larger issues.”
She’s not the only one who feels that way. A survey by the Historica Dominion Institute ahead of the federal election found that education is surprisingly low on the list of students’ political priorities.
Ethan Cabel, a fourth-year political science student at the University of Winnipeg, is similarly cynical about get-out-the-vote efforts. He also believes that student-led campaigns fail to enumerate the many issues students should care about. Besides, he says, if students don’t know the issues, do we really want them to vote? So far, the get-out-the-vote campaigners haven’t convinced Cabel.
But, as we’ve seen this fall, that doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.
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.
Ultimately, the decision to vote should be a personal one
The other night I participated in an organized group discussion about the youth vote and upcoming federal election. (Doesn’t that sound riveting?) As part of the event, participants were asked to indicate to the group if they plan on voting, and if so, who they plan on supporting. Among the crowd was a group of brave souls who, feeling disengaged and disenfranchised, declared their intention to stay home on May 2. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “ZOMG, someone, save them!” “Others are dying for this TYPE OF DEMOCRACY!”
I was beginning to believe “Not Voting” was some sort of communicable disease by the way these individuals were avoided that night. It was mostly leers and whispers until the microphone made its way around and self-appointed democracy-advocates made their impassioned pleas to the misguided. “You’re ruining it for everyone!” they said. “Don’t be politically lazy!” “We are the future!” “Gaaahh!”
Of course, the vomit was slowly rising in my throat by that point. Most upsetting was that I generally agreed with the voting advocates (minus the starry-eyed optimism). I think young people should vote, especially since it’s clear politicians won’t pay greater attention to the concerns of youth until they’re convinced they can rely on their votes. Young people can make the change by voting. I was incredibly dismayed, however, by the tone of the individuals who chose to unleash verbal attacks on the non-voters. They were convinced that the deliberate choice to refrain from voting was a disgraceful one and something certainly worthy of indignation.
It’s not surprising that this election has given rise to that sort of sentiment. Over the past few weeks, young people have been the target of pundit pleas, messages from TV personalities, and campus pressure to participate in vote mobs. And while the messages have largely been positive–encouraging youth to exercise their democratic right to cast a ballot—the latent effect has been to make a taboo of the equally democratic right to not cast a ballot. It seems focus on getting young people out to the polls has demonized the decision to stay home.
The reasons cited for choosing not to vote are usually the same among young people. They either don’t care enough to vote, they feel they aren’t well informed enough to vote, or else are so disenfranchised and dismayed by the system that they don’t want to validate the process by voting. I personally feel each reason to be insufficient (though I can sympathize with the last one, especially since there is no constructive way to express discontent with the system since spoiling a federal ballot is illegal in Canada, for some reason), but each individual has the freedom to decide if she or he wants to participate. Voting is a right, not an obligation, just as, say, the freedom of peaceful assembly is a right, not an obligation. Just because that right exists doesn’t mean we are compelled to make use of it.
The shamers will also soon come to realize that one of the worst ways to get people on your side, especially in politics, is with guilt and pressure. (Ask your friends about their blocked Twitter lists if you need any further confirmation.) Perhaps it is true that young people who choose to stay home will be “ruining it for the rest of us” by lowering turnout numbers for the youth demographic, but reminding them of that will not further anyone’s cause. Nor will a vote mob dance party–sorry to interrupt the glee. The outraged can try to explain to committed non-voters why they should vote (as opposed to explaining why they are terrible people for choosing not to), or else, move to Australia and enjoy life. In Canada, the decision to vote is a personal choice and one that should be respected, even if we don’t like it.
Why 559 UBC students say Fire Hydrant should sit on student council
“Annoyed with student politicians earnestly trying to convince you that the world will descend into anarchy if they aren’t elected? Does anarchy sound worth a try?” If you agree, you might have wanted to vote last month for the student politician who authored of those words: Fire Hydrant. The Hydrant, an actual cast iron fire hydrant weighing 87 kg and mounted on a rolling platform, ran for vice-president academic on the University of British Columbia’s student council. The candidate proposed investing several hundred million dollars in the purchase of a brewery; building an on-campus facility to be known as the Kraft Dinner Emporium; and putting a student residence on wheels so that it could “be made into a pirate dorm, attacking and ransacking the luxury condos as it sails past.” Hydrant also promised to exploit a loophole in provincial law, changing the university’s legal status to that of a mountain resort municipality. “If you’ve ever wanted to go to university at a ski resort, this is your chance.”
Student elections have notoriously low voter turn-out, often in the single digit percentages. Most of the time, the campaign revolves around one issue—tuition—that student politicians don’t even have any control over. And most of elections are boring. You can only say “free tuition” so many ways.
But sometimes there are joke candidates to make things interesting.
Like all politicians, the more name recognition they have, the more successful they can be. It is not surprising that many of these candidates come from the pages of the student press.
Ryerson University’s most famous comic relief candidate came from a cage within the confines of the student newspaper, The Eyeopener: Scoop W. Gerbil. Running for president in 2001, he said he would “continue digging and being cute for the Ryerson community, refuse to patronize, dictate to, or otherwise annoy students [and] make you realize student government can’t create affordable education.” Scoop, said the paper’s endorsement editorial, “is the candidate who urges students to think outside the box. Or cage.”
Scoop did not win, and this may have been for the best: like so many professional politicians, he had not been entirely honest with the electorate. Scoop W. Gerbil was in fact a guinea pig.
Scoop was not the first rodent to run for office. McMaster University’s student newspaper The Silhouette ran the office’s pet guinea pig, Lou Grunt, for student union president in 1985. Grunt was “the Perfect Pig for Power and a Rodent for Reform.”
Space Moose, probably the most famous comic strip character in Canadian university history, ran for student council president at the University of Alberta in 1997. His popularity resulted in one unexpected challenge: his campaign posters kept disappearing, as people carried them off as collector’s items. The comic strip, created by medical sciences student Adam Thrasher, now a professor at the University of Houston, was deliberately provocative. The most controversial episode satirized the Take Back the Night march, with cartoon Space Moose arming himself to attack the marchers but winding up imprisoned in a Womyn’s Studies re-education camp, forced to watch endless re-runs of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. The panels sparked a multi-campus uproar and a university disciplinary hearing for the author.
Space Moose placed third in the election with 1,400 votes—more votes than most winners at other schools. The University of Alberta Students’ Union changed its bylaws soon after to prevent joke candidates from taking office.
“They add an entertainment factor, without a doubt,” says Steven Dollansky, vice-president external of the University of Alberta Student’s Union. “For better or worse, they draw attention to the election.”
Dollansky should know: last year, his opponent was a Transformer. Sarah Yusuf, then a fourth year microbiology major, dressed up as the Decepticon Soundwave and ran for the vice-president position.
“If elected VP external,” Soundwave told an audience of over 400 who attended its debate with Dollansky, “I will manipulate and intimidate lobbying groups to make the student agenda a priority item.” It also laid out an environmental program. “We do not inherit this Earth from our ancestors,” Soundwave reminded Alberta’s callow youth, “we borrow it from Megatron!”
The Transformer also challenged Dollansky’s ability to serve students. “Look at him, he’s a doughy, fleshy, fragile human being … Can he transform into anything?” asked Soundwave, “No. But time will eventually transform Dollansky into a slobbering old man.” Dollansky won the election, but Soundwave captured over 1,600 votes. A video of the debate on YouTube has been viewed nearly 50,000 times.
“Joke candidates draw a certain number of people to the polls,” says Dollansky, who took the Soundwave challenge with good humour. “Twenty-seven percent of the student body voted in our election.”
At UBC, the school has not only had joke candidates; it once had a joke party. Formed in 1991, the Radical Beer Faction was UBC’s longest running political party. Over the years, the RBF ran many non-humans including Toby the Amazing Fighting Fish, a zombie and a traffic pylon. Positions taken over the years by the RBF included renaming UBC “University Beer Capital,” installing beer vending machines on campus and promising to “make up reasons to look for WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) at UVic.” The RBF was popular, especially during an era that saw UBC student politics divided between a radical left party and a more centre-left party. It disbanded in 2005, after party slates were banned.
The Fire Hydrant first rolled onto the scene in 2004 when it ran as an RBF candidate for a seat on the UBC board of governors, accompanied by “translator” (i.e. creator) Darren Peets.
“I felt something needed to be done to draw attention to the campaign,” says Peets. “Many people did not realize how important the position is.”
Peets, a physics Ph.D. candidate, has also been active on the “respectable” side of student politics. “I did not run the Hydrant to protest or discredit the process,” he says. “I basically thought ‘how can I draw attention to this race?’” The initial Hydrant platform included a call for a university closure policy in the event of an invasion: UBC has a snow closure policy; the Hydrant believed an alien invasion was slightly more likely than a Vancouver snow storm.
The Hydrant performed poorly in that election. But in 2005, the Hydrant returned with an improved platform. The wooden platform the Hydrant is bolted to was upgraded with a racing stripe, and the wheels were oiled to increase speed. That year, Fire Hydrant pulled in 900 votes, and missed winning a seat on the Board of Governors by only six votes. The next year it increased its vote count, but still missed a seat.
In 2007, Peets took a serious run for a seat on the Board of Governors—running as himself. He won. However, many people called begging Peets to roll the Hydrant one last time. “I am in my final year, my thesis is underway, I really don’t know if I have time,” Peets told Maclean’s last December.
Earlier this year, he gave in to the pressure. Hydrant entered the race for vice-president academic on UBC student council. Among other things, it proposed that the university expropriate some of the land that UBC has recently sold off to developers. “How many times do you think we can sell condos and expropriate them back before people realize what we’re up to?” asked Hydrant. “I figure about three or four.”
Despite its personal popularity, Fire Hydrant went down to defeat again last month. The new VP academic, Alex Lougheed, received 723 votes; Fire Hydrant finished fourth, backed by 559 voters.