Efforts made in student engagement

In the June 12 provincial election, local NDP incumbent Catherine Fife was elected MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo with 37.4 per cent of the vote.

Catherine Fife 5 (Heather Davidson)
Photo by Heather Davidson

Efforts were made by both universities, however, to engage students in the election.

As in the past, Elections Ontario reached out to the students’ unions at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo to set up advanced polls on their campuses.

“Elections Ontario is looking to reach out to the student vote,” explained Rick Camman, vice-president of student affairs for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union.

“We were too this year, especially with a provincial election with so many implications for students.”

Camman said Elections Ontario no longer keeps track of the youth vote, meaning the Students’ Union doesn’t have access to any data regarding how many students used the polling station.

“From what we viewed we did see a lot of students there — every time I looked there were a lot of students there on campus,” he said.

Vanessa Partat, a third-year biochemistry and biotechnology student at Laurier, noticed many of her peers getting engaged.

“A lot of my friends were actually more engaged with this election because of what Tim Hudak was proposing,” said Partat.

Despite the lack of data about the student demographic, Camman noted that there was an overall increase in voter turnout in both the Brantford and Kitchener-Waterloo ridings.

Compared to 2011, K-W saw a 15 per cent increase, while Brantford saw 7 per cent.

Camman said the Students’ Union was happy with these numbers, especially considering the lower student population on campus during the summer.

In preparation for the election, the Students’ Union worked with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance to gather information about student priorities.

From there, they met with MPP candidates in both the Brantford and K-W ridings.

“By meeting with all of the candidates we got to decipher their opinions, found out what their stances were on student priorities like tuition and student financial assistance,” Camman said.

“From there it allowed us to get some good feedback on where they were at and also where we can go forward to help to help student agendas and priorities now that the election is finally over.”

He also worked with OUSA and the College Students Alliance on itsyourvote.ca to help simplify the candidates’ platforms and highlight student issues for post-secondary students.

According to Frank Cirinna, a fourth-year bachelor of business administration and co-op student at Laurier, part of the reason why students might not get engaged is because of a lack of perspective.

“We don’t remember Mike Harris. We’re not old enough to remember Dalton McGuinty for his entire term,” he said.
“It’s hard for people to understand the consequences of what they vote for.”

“It can be very overwhelming,” Camman said of trying to research the different platforms. “Especially if the popular media doesn’t talk about students issues as the priority.”

Now that the election is done, Camman said the Students’ Union is looking ahead to advocate to the Liberal majority and local MPPs.
“The next step is to keep on putting our foot on the gas and going forward and making sure that student priorities aren’t once again overshadowed,” he said.


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