By: Jackie McNeill
The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance recently launched its OUSA Votes campaign to promote student voting in the upcoming provincial and municipal elections. For past elections the McMaster Student Union has run a Mac Votes campaign, but this year they are partnering with OUSA and its seven other member schools to get students across Ontario to pledge to vote in the June provincial election.
MSU vice president (Education), Ryan Deshpande, explains that this year’s campaign is getting students aware of the fact that there is a provincial election, flagging issues which they should be concerned about or may not realize are a provincial issue and getting them to pledge to vote for issues that matter to them.
OUSA’s pledge to vote involves more than just the initial pledge, however. Once students pledge through their site, they can be kept updated through email on many issues surrounding the elections, from highlights of candidates’ platforms to reminders when voting opens in June.
The campaign can also help to answer any questions interested students may have about voting.
“It’s votes that drive the government, and ensuring that students vote is critical to ensuring that we get what we need in order to thrive in our education.”
Vice president (Education)
McMaster Students Union
For example, the use of a voter identification card was removed from the list of acceptable ID for voters in 2015. This left students who did not have their Hamilton address on their government ID unable to vote in the Hamilton municipal elections. Today, you only need proof of address on an official document such as a lease or Internet bill to vote in the Hamilton municipal election, a piece of information OUSA’s pledge could easily answer.
OUSA is also an official stakeholder in the provincial government, where they advocate for on behalf of students. The MSU has the opportunity to reflect the McMaster community’s needs through OUSA’s general assembly, which the vice president (Education) attends with the rest of his team.
Despite the work gone into supporting the student vote, there is a question of student voter apathy, particularly given the low voter turnout of 28 per cent during the 2018 MSU presidential election.
Deshpande and associate vice president (Provincial and Federal Affairs), Urszula Sitarz, believe it is not apathy that deters these students from voting, but rather the idea that the system does not represent or serve them.
“Voting in the MSU election is one step in the broader picture, because when you vote in your MSU president that’s your voice at government too. So if you don’t want the MSU to be your voice at government, be your own voice at government with your vote,” said Deshpande.
While provincial-level student issues like affordable tuition and free textbooks are a large part of discussion on campus, the municipal government is often taken for granted. The municipal election will also happen this year in October 2018.
Issues such as efficient transportation and neighbourhood safety all hinge upon decisions made at city council. In the Hamilton West-Ancaster- Dundas riding, students have the voting power to sway an election, as this riding includes not only McMaster University, but also Mohawk College and Redeemer University College.
“It’s votes that drive the government, and ensuring that students vote is critical to ensuring that we get what we need in order to thrive in our education,” said Desphande.
Whether provincial or municipal, unless students vote, government representatives are unlikely to take student concerns seriously. But with MSU’s and OUSA’s efforts, hopefully this will change.