Queen’s professor discusses student engagement in provincial election

Kingston and the Island’s MPP campaigns centre around housing and mental health

Student concerns in the upcoming Provincial Elections.
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Kingston and the Islands MPP candidates have made the housing crisis, affordability, and living costs critical concerns this election.

To address Kingston and the Island’s major social concerns, as well as student engagement in the upcoming provincial election, The Journal spoke to Queen’s Department of Political Studies Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dax D’Orazio.

According to Elections Canada, youth voter turnout before the 1990s was 70 percent or higher in most federal elections. In 2019, youth voter was 25 percent lower than the 57 to 74 age group.

D’Orazio outlined various areas of concern within Kingston to show what the candidates could be addressing in their campaigns. He also explained how these Kingston-related issues are present in all of Ontario.

D’Orazio pointed out social concerns, including mental health, general health care, housing, gas prices, and the standard price of living as issues facing voters this election.

“We have a pretty acute crisis with affordable housing, not just in Kingston, but all across Ontario, […] We have people who find themselves on the margins of the housing and rentals market being priced out or pushed out,” D’Orazio said.

The impact of these issues is not limited to regional sectors and still impacts many students’ daily living costs and mental wellness.

Specifically looking at affordable housing, D’Orazio explained the socio-economic standing of students has a significant impact on their access to housing.

D’Orazio explained students’ lack of engagement might come from a lack of political and policy processes that affect their demographic.

“There might be disjuncture between people who are affected by something, and it might be a result of specific policy […] and the consequential or the lack of any desire among policymakers to do anything to address that problem.”

He encouraged students to pitch specific concerns to policymakers so their voices could be heard.

“[Youth] are obviously on the receiving end of some of the negative effects of public policy decisions if their voice is not considered very seriously within policy or the political process,” D’Orazio said.

D’Orazio said, alongside the housing crisis, issues relating to mental health also impact students.

“I think the campus gives a window into the degree to which mental health and concerns related to mental health ought to be a stable, consistent and accessible components of broader health care services within Ontario and within Canada,” D’Orazio said.

D’Orazio commented on the seriousness of the candidate’s campaign promises. He has evaluated how pocketbook issues, such as affordable housing and mental health, will be in the front of the mind of voters and strategists.

“It’s important to assess the social concerns of voters to watch how candidates react policy-wise and ensure the proposed promises are actually brought to fruition,” D’Orazio said. 

D’Orazio said elections are not the most accurate depiction of student engagement with politics.

“I think there are a lot of different ways that youth especially are engaged politically, that it follows quite a bit outside of official elections and party politics,” D’Orazio said.

D’Orazio used student interest in policies and issues on housing as an example. Students tend to use other platforms such as social media to direct their voices.

D’Orazio touched on the transient nature of students and how it is difficult to be politically engaged when they are only living in the Kingston area for, on average, around three to four years.

He encouraged universities to promote and host events to revitalize a drive for civic responsibilities—to develop “civic virtue of being a good and responsible citizen” rather than discipline-specific competencies and skills.

Specifically, D’Orazio mentioned events where students can speak to the political candidates on campus and events for high-profile debates that expose students to the political process.

The polling day for the 2022 Provincial Elections is on Jun. 2. Voters can participate in advanced polling, which opens on May 28.

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