Can’t put this one on us

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Although by many accounts the right candidate won, the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection campaign was an absolute mess.

Key local issues were glossed over while the Liberal government’s relations with the teachers’ union took centre stage. Party rhetoric was flung around more than in most general elections and with less than a month to campaign, just as most were becoming aware of the byelection, it was over.

But what was likely the most glaring issue from a logistical standpoint was the lacking accessibility for the over 40,000 students that call this riding home, at least for eight months of the year.

The problem is quite obvious: the date of the byelection. With K-W heading to the polls Sept. 6 the majority of students were either yet to return to the riding, or were in the midst of moving back for Frosh Week, with voting, understandably, not quite in the forefront of their minds.

What’s worse is that unlike in previous elections, first-year students were not able to use being on a university residence list as proof of local residence. This, combined with the fact that first-year students at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo were in the midst of pre-planned Orientation Week activities, it was virtually impossible for students in first year to vote.

A common criticism of our generation, thrown around by pundits, political scientists and essentially anyone over the age of 35, is that people in the student-aged demographic are ignorant when it comes to politics. Apparently our heads are too buried in our smartphones to engage in or even be aware of the democratic process and of course there may be some merit to this argument.

As a 22 year old, I will fully admit that a strikingly large portion of my peer group is completely unaware when it comes to politics.

But what gets overlooked far too often, particularly when it comes to students, are the conditions.

There are firstly, the logistics. This byelection was in the middle of Orientation Week, but poor Election Day setups for students are nothing new.

Last October’s provincial election was on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, a travel day for most students. Last May’s federal election: mere days after most students had finished exams and again, were in transit.

While these may seem like superficial problems, they are nonetheless barriers to students voting, barriers that members of most demographics largely do not have to deal with.

Beyond mere logistical problems, post-secondary education, despite what politicians may say, does not seem very high on the parties’ priority lists.

The byelection in K-W, a riding that features two universities and a campus of Conestoga College saw little to no discussion of post-secondary education, beyond standard mentions of how great it is that Kitchener-Waterloo has three post-secondary institutions.

While post-secondary education managed to make its way into the political conversation during last October, most of the debate devolved into squabbling over whether or not the Liberals’ 30 per cent tuition grant was or was not the solution to high tuition prices.

While it is easy to take one look at the large portion of students that spent Sept. 6 drinking on a front lawn rather than in a voting booth and wag a finger, we need to ask, are students being set up to participate in politics even in the slightest?

How can we be asked to participate in the democratic process, when doing so is not only difficult, but at times seemingly set up to keep us out?

While we as students are anything but blameless for our lacking political engagement, is it not the older generation’s responsibility to instill in us the importance of the democratic process?

It seems to me that the majority of the members of that generation have become so quick to criticize our lack of political participation, they’ve completely given up trying to engage us.

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