Education ignored

Provincial election candidates skipped student issues


Let’s face it — politics in Ontario isn’t sexy.

While some premiers in Canada, such as Brad Wall in Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island’s Robert Ghiz, are extremely popular in their respective provinces, it seems most Ontarians weren’t enthusiastic about the candidates they had to choose from this past election.

What’s more, this election — even with a very slight increase in voter turnout — highlighted some of the most glaring flaws of all three major parties and their respective leaders.

As students, we should especially take notice of the candidates’ failure to discuss the state of post-secondary education in Ontario.

This indicated that the youth vote isn’t a priority for candidates. It’s likely they believe younger Canadians place voting low on their priority list, leading to an unacceptable lack of engagement from each party leader.

Ontario premier and Liberal party leader Kathleen Wynne has dealt with a mounting deficit and years of Liberal scandals, including the controversy surrounding the massive cancellation costs of gas-fired power plants in Mississauga and Oakville.

Former Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) party leader Tim Hudak had to deal with several hurdles throughout his campaign. Economists questioned the math within his Million Jobs Plan, and many of his platform points were divisive and off-putting to students and public sector workers across the province.

Andrea Horwath, the New Democratic Party (NDP) leader, has struggled to keep the social-democratic base of her party together, after shifting more to the centre during this campaign. Their popular vote did go up, but their seat count remained the same — somehow.

As university students, the cliché goes that we’re the next generation of leaders. However, what’s there to look up to when many youth voters in Ontario saw a lack of clear choice within this election?

The lack of prominent discussion on post-secondary education (PSE) throughout the campaign was startling.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), the province-wide student organization that Queen’s is a member of, has advocated for parties to bring student issues to the forefront and promote accessible education through financial relief.

The PC’s proposal to get rid of the 30 per cent off tuition rebate angered many students that rely on this rebate and other Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) benefits to afford to go to school. With tuition rates on the rise each year, it’s becoming harder for some students to afford PSE.

The tuition rebate makes it more affordable for students and increases the accessibility of PSE. OUSA’s student-focused platform puts an emphasis on enhancing the rebate, not getting rid of it.

With student issues being placed on the back burner, it’s obvious why youth aren’t motivated to vote.

While a meteoric shift in the focus of campaigns to youth issues might alienate other demographics, it seems as though politicians see youth as the people least likely to vote. Thus, they don’t mention PSE very much during campaigns.

The availability of social media as a tool to engage with voters was squandered, as many candidates failed to connect with younger citizens. While it may look cool and hip to have a politician on Twitter, campaigns tend to bring out the worst of how to use it.

Take Kingston and the Islands PC candidate Mark Bain. Many of his tweets during the campaign were simple and canned talking points with no real substance, other than the fact they were PC talking points.

This makes the candidate look like nothing more than a robot on social media.

Another problem is that politics today are extremely scripted and crafted. During the televised leaders’ debate, the three candidates moved away from relevant topics that Ontarians care about and descended into a meaningless war of words.

Looking to the future, we may have to undergo a radical change within our political parties for youth to become interested in them again, whether it be the emergence of a new party, the total rebranding of an existing party or a schism of MPPs from their current parties to form a new one.

Finding a solution to these issues is going to be difficult, to say the least, but something must be done. Surely, a tabula rasa — blank slate — party or candidate will emerge. Could it be the PC’s yet-to-be-elected new leader? We shall have to wait and see.

Jon Wiseman is a third-year political studies major.

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