Engaging student voices

Mayoral candidates discuss student issues

Mayoral candidates discuss student issues at Grant Hall on Oct. 7.
Mayoral candidates discuss student issues at Grant Hall on Oct. 7.

Queen’s student Evelyn Playle attended the recent mayoral debate on campus to gain awareness of local issues that could affect her university experience.

“This is the first time I’m old enough to vote and I’m trying to do my civic duty,” Playle, Sci ’12, said at the debate.

Playle said she’s the only one of her friends interested in the election. The others are fairly apathetic. Despite her engaged attitude, Playle said she’s been having a hard time finding out about candidate’s concrete plans.

At the debate, the mayoral candidates failed to explain their specific plans once elected, she said.

“No one said how they’re going to do anything.”

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Hilary Windrem said this kind of engagement is critical to getting student issues handled in the Kingston community.

“The mayor can set the tone and priority,” Windrem, ArtSci ’11, said. “Someone who was an active advocate for student interests would be a big win for students.”

“We are residents of Kingston … our voice affects those who represent us,” she said. “Someone who was an active advocate for student interests would be a big win for students.”

This year, student housing is an election hot-topic, and so Windrem said student involvement is even more crucial than it has been in the past.

She said there is a lot of legislation already in place to dictate property standards but students are often unaware of it and landlords are quick to exploit this lack of knowledge. The major problem though, is that action can only be taken against a non-compliant landlord if a tenant launches a complaint.

“I think a lot of students aren’t aware of that,” she said, adding that the mayoral candidates have the power to create positive change through existing legislation.

“One of the things the candidates really need to focus on is enforcing the laws that are already in place. You know, really forcing landlords to follow the legislation that’s already there,” she said. “There’s been a lot of discussion in past years about implementing new strategies and I think what’s in place now would work if it were enforced and students really understood the process in which they can complain.”

Currently students are legally protected by two documents, Windrem said.

“We have the Kingston Property Standards Bylaw which outlines the physical properties of a house … what your house should look like,” she said. “And then there’s the RTA [Residential Tenancies Act]. It’s a provincial act that specifically outlines what leases need to look like.”

She said candidates could ensure educational campaigns advocating for students’ tenancy rights are conducted on a more regular basis.

“Something I think the candidates will not understand is that if there is talk about doing an educational campaign, you can’t just do it every five years,” she said. “Every year we have a new batch of students that are either moving out of residents or moving closer into the student housing area and in order for their campaigns to work, these campaigns need to happen year after year until we see an upward trend.”

Tied into concerns about student housing is the issue of access to Kingston public transportation, Windrem said.

“[Students] are looking for quality housing and a lot of times that means living further away from campus … [students] are looking for ways to get to campus through public transportation,” she said, adding that students need to vote to ensure issues like bus stop distribution are dealt with.

She said that in the past students have successfully lobbied for municipal changes in regards to public transit and a student-friendly mayor could help ease the proceedings in the future.

“There was a problem of students getting to the bus and train stations. It was a campaign promise by last year’s exec and it was put into implementation by this year’s execs. Now we have bus route number 18 that does go to the train and bus station, that was something students really asked for so we went to the municipality and we lobbied for that and we were very successful,” she said.

At the root of the election is the relationship between Queen’s and the City, Windrem said.

“It’s very important we have someone we can approach and have our concerns heard,” she said. “It affects every day student life. We are in fact citizens of Kingston.”

—With files from Jessica Fishbein and Labiba Haque

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