Students should cast their vote carefully

Some mayoral candidates have voted in favour of a realignment of electoral district boundaries that would discount student votes

The proposed district realignment would have Sydenham district dissolved into Williamsville district.
The proposed district realignment would have Sydenham district dissolved into Williamsville district.

Sergio Sismondo and Jamie Swift

Gerrymandering means rearranging electoral boundaries so that your team gains an advantage.

It’s a time-honoured electoral tactic that came to Kingston last year when seven local politicians tried to redraw electoral district boundaries.

It’s this attempt that students should be wary of when determining who to vote for in the upcoming mayoral election on Oct. 27. Two candidates – Dorothy Hector and Bryan Paterson – voted in favour of rearranging electoral boundaries and discounting students from population tallies.

Students should be looking to other candidates when deciding whom to give their vote. Certain City Hall politicians were consolidating what Sydenham District councilor Bill Glover has called City Hall’s “Development Party,” or what we prefer to call the “Landlords, Developers and Real Estate Coalition” (LDREC).

Glover was observing that Mayor Mark Gerretsen — a property manager by trade — and six councilors, who received substantial campaign donations from landlords, developers and real estate interest group, “have a track record of voting as a bloc”, as Whig-Standard columnist Paul Schliesmann wrote in June 2012.

In April 2013, that bloc – Paterson, Hector, Gerretsen, Sandy Berg, Kevin George, Brian Reitzel and Jeff Scott – voted to not count post-secondary students as residents for electoral purposes.

The new electoral district boundaries made it look as if almost nobody lived downtown.

This would have gutted downtown representation by eliminating the downtown Sydenham District, which would have been amalgamated into Williamsville District. Suburban districts would have gained influence. And that was the point.

Gerretsen and the councilors imagined this area around Queen’s as an unpopulated wasteland. In other words, the LDREC decided that Queen’s students didn’t deserve representation on City Council.

The LDREC seven were playing politics with fundamental rights, choosing to cut student representation to gain more power. Two members of the coalition – Paterson and Hector – are now running for mayor. They both voted against student representation.

In response to Council’s blatant gerrymandering, the AMS and the Sydenham District Association appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Last November, the OMB ruled against the Mayor and the six councilors, who were intent on manipulating our electoral districts.

It was a victory for democracy.

When Council voted to remove student representation, it chose to go against its previous instructions to City staff, and chose to ignore staff’s clear ranking of the options.

With more than 20,000 students living downtown, to ignore them not only counts student interests as worth less than other people’s – it also makes no sense.

The vast majority of students are considered “tenants” under the Municipal Elections Act, and thus have the right to vote.

Students also use Kingston’s services, and both draw on and contribute to community resources. As tenants in the ordinary sense, students indirectly pay a significant share of the Kingston’s property taxes.

It’s part of Council’s responsibility to represent students, because students are part of the population of Kingston, living here for most of the year.

Moreover, councilors need to represent student interests for the sake of the rest of the city, because the University District, other student-dominated neighbourhoods and student rentals are part of the city. If the proposed boundaries had been left to stand, councilors in the more urban parts of Kingston would have been representing many more people than councilors in the suburban and rural areas.

To the surprise of few, Sylvia Sutherland, a former Peterborough mayor and member of the OMB, found that “the council, in a 7-6 vote, acted unreasonably in adopting an option that does not count more than 20 per cent of the city’s population when determining electoral districts.”

When pressed at an all-candidates meeting earlier this month, both Paterson and Hector apologized – not for voting against the rights of students, but only for the perception that they are anti-student.

Last year’s effort to curb democracy failed. Oct. 27 is election day; it’s time for students to vote, and to make sure student interests are represented in Kingston.

Sergio Sismondo is a professor in the department of philosophy. Jamie Swift is an adjunct professor at the Queen’s School of Business.

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