Municipal matters matter

Students should vote in the upcoming election to prove we have a voice

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Stephen Smith, ArtSci ’15

Contrary to popular belief, Mayor Mark Gerretsen and the Kingston City Council don’t hate Queen’s students.

Although Council voted to limit student representation in April 2013 and passed a one-garbage bag limit in August 2012 that unfairly targets student houses, the underlying attitude in City Hall isn’t so much malice as indifference.

To local politicians, there’s little reason for Queen’s students to matter. After all, everyone knows students don’t vote. City councilors — such as Countryside District councilor Jeff Scott — have argued that students aren’t engaged in municipal affairs.

This assumption was part of the rationalization behind the unfair proposal to redistribute electoral districts in 2013, and it continues to temper town-gown relations.

With the current mayoral and council elections fast approaching on Oct. 27, it’s important that students dismantle the notion that we’re disengaged with politics and the Kingston community.

Mayor Gerretsen’s comments about how Queen’s 2013 Homecoming was “NOT GOOD” were frustrating to students. For Kingston locals concerned about the city’s reputation and the potential for Homecoming revelry to cause massive property damage and police costs, however, it would have been reassuring to know that the mayor was on their side.

Losing the support of concerned Kingstonians would have been a political nightmare for Mayor Gerretsen, but losing the support of students isn’t a big deal, because again: everyone knows students don’t vote.

It’s time for Queen’s students to fight back against the perception that they’re apathetic and uninvolved.

Mayor Gerretsen isn’t running for re-election, but his successor will face the exact same set of voters and non-voters. They’ll ignore students for the exact same reason, unless students actually decide to vote this year.

Students often say they don’t know who to vote for. Most Queen’s students are relatively new to Kingston, and are unfamiliar with the issues and the candidates in question. Because students may not feel informed enough, they choose not to vote.

While getting informed is a relatively simple process — the Queen’s Journal and the Kingston Whig-Standard have been covering the election in great detail — even an uninformed student vote is infinitely more valuable than no vote at all.

More students showing a willingness to vote would be enough to reconfigure the politicians’ preconceived notions about students, which would force them to consider more student issues.

Do students have issues related to municipal politics? Some students I’ve spoken to feel that because they’re short-term residents in Kingston and intend to leave after they earn their degree, the Kingston election doesn’t really affect them. But decisions made by the municipal government here in Kingston affect our every-day lives.

Any student who slipped on a frozen sidewalk last year, lives in a sub-standard University District house, has bumped their car or bike on a pothole in the road, has been detoured by an orange construction sign or didn’t have their garbage collected has experienced first-hand the problems that municipal government deals with.

Each of those problems is a solvable one that seriously affects students, but students have inexplicably failed to exercise their right to have a say about them.

Municipal politics are easy to forget about. With much news coverage focused on the flashy issues that the federal and provincial governments work with, all people — not just students — forget that municipal governments aren’t just incredibly important to daily life; they’re also the easiest to change.

In 2010, Bill Glover won the Sydenham District election by a margin of just 404 votes. In Williamsville, Jim Neill won by 197 votes. These margins are tiny. To put that into perspective, 197 students is about half the capacity of the BioSci auditorium.

It’s entirely possible that a race could come down to just one vote between candidates, and it’s better for everyone at Queen’s that this vote be a student vote. With enough organization and marketing, a surprisingly small group of Queen’s students could choose whoever they want to be councilor in a given district. And perhaps, in future years, that might be worth looking into.

But that level of organization isn’t necessary. As long as every individual student is willing to take half an hour out of their day on Oct. 27 and vote for somebody, students will never have to be ignored again.

Stephen Smith is a fourth-year political studies major.

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