By: Owen Angus-Yamada
I have a fellow friend at McMaster with whom I debate on every subject from what’s the funniest pick up line to how reforming our education system can bring about better learning. During one recent conversation, I brought up the McMaster Students Union presidential election.
He put a kibosh on the debate and replied, “I don’t know who’s running and I don’t care.” I had to agree with him, and with voting rate of 44.5 per cent in 2016 it seems that the majority of the McMaster student population also agrees. This lead me to two big questions: are the candidates not properly informing the masses of their platforms and qualifications, or do the McMaster students see the MSU president position as something with no real impact?
Being a third-year Honours Commerce student, I can say that I have had only one MSU candidate, Shaarujaa Nadarajah, come in front of one of my lectures and give a quick summary of her MSU presidential platform and relevant experience. Going back to first year, I remember seeing all the MSU presidential candidates come before lectures and give a two-minute drill on their platforms with many candidates making multiple appearances. Where did all the in-person politics go?
The fact that students who are not actively seeking information regarding the election are not being properly informed could be the reason for low voter turnout and some of those who do vote, 6.2 per cent in 2016, vote for abstaining. It is also possible and more probable that students don’t care to vote because the MSU president seems to have has little to no effect on most of them.
It’s hard to blame students for not seeing the MSU president as a nonfactor in their daily lives. The MSU presidents have a track record of promising big ideas that become white noise after their election. The first MSU president I voted for, Ehima Osazuwa, campaigned to bring gender neutral washrooms and lower tuition costs. The latter is more unrealistic, but neither promise is close to being realized. Other MSU candidates have brought even more ludicrous ideas to the table that span from bringing a grocery store and movie theatre onto campus to building another student centre.
In my third year now, I can say that the only significant change brought on by the MSU was finally bringing debit machines on campus so I can better waste my parents’ hard-earned money on $2 coffee. Other than that, I couldn’t name another thing the MSU has done.
First years experience more exposure to the presidential candidates because they are more optimistic and believe that the candidates will make good on their propositions. Unless you actively follow the elected president’s activities like some sort of political brownnoser, you may assume that they are doing nothing at all. That statement may sound harsh, but for most students the reality is that no matter whom they vote for the school remains largely the same, for better or for worse.
Year-round two-way communication is essential in getting students to vote and take the election process more seriously. Students don’t care because they simply don’t know. Most students have no clue what the MSU president really does for them or where they are in the process of making good on those campaign promises.
The communication between the MSU president and McMaster student population should be a continuous process throughout their entire tenure. The use of social media question and answer periods where students are notified and encouraged to participate through mass email is one way to achieve that two-way communication. It encourages student involvement and will allow the MSU president to update the student population on their actual changes or reasons why certain changes have not yet been made while allowing the student population hold the president accountable for any of their larger promises.
If students are the future of Canada, then democracy’s future is grim. Federal election turnout has gradually dropped from 79.2 per cent in 1963 to an all time low of 58.8 per cent in 2008, and if the MSU presidential elections are any indicator, then the next generation of voters can expect a voting turnout below 50 per cent. Students need to be properly informed on why we should care about who becomes the new MSU president. It’s time for McMaster students to change their voting mindset.