“Meet the Candidates” event encourages students to get involved and vote

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Photo by Manraj Singh

On Sept. 26 between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., the University Affairs Department of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Students’ Union hosted a “Meet the Candidates” event for the upcoming municipal election candidates at the Paul Martin Centre on Laurier’s Waterloo Campus.

The meet-and-greet networking event gave the electoral candidates for the positions of mayor, regional council and chair — as well as the seven ward councillors — the opportunity to speak with local voters and discuss important issues. 

With the municipal elections coming up on Monday, Oct. 22, it is crucial for every university aged voter to begin seriously considering which candidates, both at the mayoral and council level, they feel best represent their interests and beliefs. 

These “Meet the Candidates” events as well as formal debates will be happening across the Region of Waterloo up until the actual date of the elections.

The Cord had the chance to speak with the mayoral candidates, as well as the Ward seven councillor candidates and get their thoughts on the importance of student engagement and voting, specifically when it comes to municipal government.

“I think it’s important for everybody to get out and vote, because regardless of whether you’re here in this city for four years, my hope is that students will make this a lifetime choice as I did,” said Dave Jaworsky, current Mayor of the city of Waterloo, who is also seeking re-election this campaign season.

According to the city of Waterloo, municipal election turnout is becoming more critical a focus than ever. 

As of the 2014 election, 25,750 out of an eligible 71,667 total voters in the city voted — only 36 per cent of the voting population. 

While the results of the 2018 provincial and 2015 federal elections weren’t necessarily groundbreaking with regard to turnout — 58.4 and 68.3 per cent respectively — this sharp decline represents a growing lack of interest towards local government. 

This year’s municipal elections candidates are well aware that this fact is increasingly apparent in the university-aged demographic.

“We know that many students typically don’t come out and vote: some students come from different cities and they don’t necessarily partake in the municipal elections,” said mayoral candidate Chris Kolednik.

The motivation behind getting students to rally behind voting in their local municipality share many common elements amongst the candidates: the first being to keep people living, working and contributing within the city.

“It’s so important to make sure we’ve got those relationships, develop that trust and we [need to] show them the value of being connected and committed to the future.”

“We have three fabulous post-secondary institutions in our city and we need to make sure that we pay attention to the needs of students in our city,” said mayoral candidate Kelly Steiss. 

“I want to make sure we are attracting and retaining those students as our talent, and that they stay in Waterloo.”

Some of the candidates agree that students don’t have enough interest in a level of government that has the ability to be an important influencing factor in their lives. It’s something that many of them wish to shed light on. 

“You don’t really realize how much of your day-to-day life is affected by municipal politics,” said Ward seven candidate Rami Said.

“Generally, it gets drowned out by the provincial and federal stuff — it’s so overarching and feels so much more important. But in terms just your well-being within your community, the municipal stuff is really the ground.”

“That’s the thing I love about it — you can enact something and within six months its suddenly in existence … within six months you can really change [something],” he said.

Others want to ensure that the city is properly organizing and harnessing the tremendous political expression that is dormant in the minds of university-aged voters. 

“I don’t think students realize the power of their potential voice,” said Ward seven candidate Tenille Bonoguore. 

“If a massive student body decided to show up at the polls, they could literally swing the election in many situations.”

“The potential is there, but I think what students need to believe themselves is that their voice has power,” she said.

Some candidates simply want to get students engaged in any capacity, to ensure that they are politically educated and comfortable coming out to vote, through the usage of social media.

“We’re gonna be working with influencers in the community — Oct. 5, we’re launching a huge media campaign, all on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — and engaging the students,” said Ward seven candidate Devon McKenzie. 

“In the last election, there was about 4000 people who voted in my ward and of that 4000, only 160 of them were students. So we’re looking to get a higher turnout and we’re looking to engage the students and really educate them that they really can vote.”

The event gave candidates the opportunity to reflect the concerns and questions that they want directed towards the students, to get their feedback and find out how to get them more interested in politics. 

“I do hope that everyone is interviewing the students too, to find out what is it about it that doesn’t engage them? It’s very difficult as a potential candidate or a future potential politician to truly understand how it is you can reach somebody and thus understand what it is the barriers that they find in the current system … and it would be lovely to find out,” said Ward seven candidate Elizabeth Sproule.  

However, all of the candidates agree on the same foundation — that university-aged voters are one of the most important demographics for the coming years of the city. 

“They’re our future, right? If we don’t have them engaged and interested in what’s happening in our city — well then what’s the future of our city? ” said Ward seven candidate Carol Parsons.

“It’s so important to make sure we’ve got those relationships, develop that trust and we [need to] show them the value of being connected and committed to the future.”

Keep up with The Cord, where we will be looking in-depth at the upcoming municipal election: including how and where to vote, the candidates, their platforms and plans for the city if elected. 

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