Why the student vote matters

The next provincial government will make decisions that impact students

Mira Dineen (far left) introduces (seated, from left) Green nominee Robert Kiley, Conservative nominee Rodger James, Liberal incumbent John Gerretsen and NDP nominee Mary Rita Holland at the Kingston and the Islands all-candidates debate at Wallace Hall on Monday night.
Mira Dineen (far left) introduces (seated, from left) Green nominee Robert Kiley, Conservative nominee Rodger James, Liberal incumbent John Gerretsen and NDP nominee Mary Rita Holland at the Kingston and the Islands all-candidates debate at Wallace Hall on Monday night.

The second week of classes are underway and the University is buzzing with activity. Students are busy.

Your day probably looks something like this: grab a coffee on your way to campus, sort out your OSAP paperwork at Gordon Hall, call home for the first time in weeks to hear about how your little brother is settling into his Grade 6 class, note the increasing use of educational technology in your lectures and spend your night re-writing your resume and filling out job applications. After all, tuition and living costs are rising and you could probably use the extra cash.

There is an Ontario provincial election on Thursday, Oct. 6. The provincial government makes decisions that directly impact all areas of your life as a student. In fact, the Ontario government sets policies for almost all of the above (except the coffee). They include: the quality and cost of your post-secondary education, teacher training for professors, elementary and secondary education and student financial aid.

Let’s consider the cost of your education. An undergraduate degree in Ontario costs more than anywhere else in Canada, with students paying an average of $6,307 of tuition per year in 2010. In the past decade, the average student debt load has risen to over $25,000 at graduation. Queen’s students are feeling the crunch.

Students should also be concerned about the quality of their education. At Queen’s, departments have disappeared and class sizes have increased as we do less with less, but quality means everything from investing in infrastructure and educational technologies that facilitate learning to recognizing that being a world-renowned researcher doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good teacher.

Accessibility to education is another key area of concern. Students of Aboriginal descent, students whose parents didn’t attend university and students in rural or northern Ontario are significantly less likely to ever go to university.

These would-be students are the lab partners you never had, or the person in front of you in line at Common Ground who isn’t there. They’re just like you — but they’re not because they never even applied to Queen’s.

Every year, qualified and interested high school students don’t apply to university for a multitude of reasons. Some are less aware of the resources available through student aid programs, while others are skeptical of the benefits of post-secondary education. Your new provincial government will have the power to address accessibility and help those from socio-economically and geographically under-represented groups go to university.

We as students have remarkable power over the democratic process — unfortunately, many of us choose not to use it. Only 37.4 per cent of voters aged 18 to 24 cast a ballot in the 2008 Federal election — well below the average turnout.

Ontario’s large student population makes our participation in the electoral process even more critical. According to the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, if every student who didn’t vote during the 2007 provincial election had instead cast their ballot, the results in 67 out of 107 electoral districts could have changed. So why don’t students vote?

Often students question their own eligibility to vote in Kingston. If you’re 18 and a Canadian citizen, you’re eligible to vote here for the Ontario Provincial Election. It doesn’t matter if you’re from elsewhere in Ontario. You’re even eligible to vote if you’re from another province. All you need to do is prove you are currently living in Kingston.

Some students think voting is too complicated or will take up too much time. If you’re a Queen’s student, all you have to do is show up to the advanced poll with a piece of ID, like a driver’s license. It’s okay if your ID doesn’t have a Kingston address — you can print out a Verification of Enrollment form on site from SOLUS as your proof of residence.

Critics of the youth vote claim that young people believe the issues don’t matter to them.

Certainly, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re a first-time voter, and some students might think they don’t know enough to vote. But with education shaping up to be a key issue in this election, I urge you to take the opportunity to get informed. You’re at Queen’s to learn, after all, and this is an amazing opportunity.

The provincial government makes decisions that will continue to affect you once you’re no longer a student. Provincial jurisdiction covers natural resources, roads, health care, municipalities and much more. Voting is your chance to speak up now and it will be your chance to speak up later. Why not get started early?

Politicians won’t prioritize student concerns unless students vote. Your voice doesn’t matter unless you speak up.

Vote in the provincial election. It’s a big fucking deal.

Mira Dineen is AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner.
Students can cast their election ballots at the advance poll in the JDUC this Wednesday, Thursday or Friday between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

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