What are the greatest issues facing students in the upcoming Canadian federal election?

Comment contributors weigh in on the climate crisis, affordable postsecondary education, rising tuition costs, and access to voter information
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

In light of the upcoming federal election on October 21, four students weigh in on the greatest issues facing students today.

Turning around our voter turnout

The greatest issue facing students in the upcoming elections is a lack of education on how the federal election actually works. Young voters — citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 — make up the largest eligible voting demographic in Canada. This gives young people a lot of power. However, a lack of knowledge seems to take that power away.

Despite voter apathy, the stereotype that today’s youth don’t care about politics is not necessarily true. Today’s young people seem to be more politically involved than past generations. Students are aware of the effects of political decisions in our everyday lives, from transportation and housing costs to cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Young people do care, and they have power in numbers. However, there is a need to better inform young people so that they may channel their concerns into political action.

Many young people are not informed on how to register, vote, or on how their vote can impact their nation. Compared to older voters who have been politically engaged for years, youth lack experience and understanding of Canadian politics. This is amplified when considering the understandable lack of faith there is in the system, and the fact that the available candidates and parties do not sufficiently represent their needs and interests.

A common sentiment among youth is that the system is too flawed, or that no matter who you vote for, things never end up changing for the better. If people are not well informed on how to get politically involved, and if the options they have seem like a choice between bad and worse, it could be discouraging for those who are new to voting or not politically engaged.

Voting is a right, but being an informed citizen is a responsibility. Getting educated about how elections in Canada work and what your role and impact are as a citizen is actually quite easy. Canada has made voting considerably accessible, and the tools needed to understand the political system are only an internet search away.

While many challenges still exist for young people to politically engage in this country, this education barrier is one that young people can overcome. And when we do, our influence will be large enough to create massive change in our country.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM.

Tuition costs

As our political parties ramp up their campaigns, voters are eagerly waiting for detailed platforms in order to decide which candidate they will be supporting. For many postsecondary students across Canada, there is one universal issue that they can all relate to — the rising costs of tuition.

According to Statistics Canada, the average undergraduate student in Canada during the 2011–2012 school year paid $5,366, compared to $6,571 in 2017–2018.

As costs of living can exceed thousands of dollars for an eight-month academic period — at the University of Toronto, for example — students heavily rely on student loans to survive.

According to Statistics Canada, 40 per cent of graduates from the 20092010 class had to take out a loan for their postsecondary education, with 50 per cent of undergraduate students having a loan, compared to 41 per cent of doctoral students. Moreover, according to the Government of Canada, from August 1, 2015, to July 31, 2016, 490,000 full-time students took on $2.7 billion  in loans, with an average of $5,507 per student. At the time of graduation of the same fiscal period, graduates on average had a debt of $13,306 from student loans.

In sum, when students head to their local voting centre this October, they should inform themselves well and vote for the candidate they believe in the most that will reduce the cost of tuition, in order to keep postsecondary education accessible to all Canadians.

Angad Deol is a first-year Life Sciences student in St. Michael’s College.

Affordable postsecondary education

Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to OSAP are in full swing. In addition to gutting the free tuition program for low-income students, the new program significantly changes the ratio of grants to loans and eliminates the six-month grace period on loan interest. All of these measures have made it difficult for students to find their way back on campus this year. Making postsecondary education affordable is of the utmost concern for students, one that most major parties have already addressed.

Recently, both the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party have offered proposals to make postsecondary education more affordable for students. Green Party leader Elizabeth May is proposing to eliminate student debt altogether, while NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wants to eliminate interest rates on student loans.

On top of this, Singh recently tweeted that his plan does not stop at eliminating interest, as he believes that “young people should be able to go from kindergarten to post-secondary education, barrier-free.” However, both the NDP and the Green Party have not released any substantial plans on how they would make these proposals sustainable.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have introduced a six-month grace period on interest for student loans after graduation.

The Conservatives have yet to offer any proposal. Though, based on the changes that the Progressive Conservatives have made in Ontario, it is safe to assume that the federal party is likely to make more cuts.

In the next few weeks, other parties will spend a considerable time painting Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer with the same brush: one of contempt, distrust, and disregard for students.

As the election starts to gear up, the NDP, the Green Party and the Liberals have all offered some sort of solution to the affordability of postsecondary education. As long as Andrew Scheer stays silent on the subject, one can assume that the Conservatives hold a similar position on postsecondary education as Doug Ford — and that is not a good look for Andrew Scheer.

Aiman Akmal is a third-year International Relations student at Trinity College.

The climate crisis

The climate crisis is a major issue for voters this federal election. This comes with an ever-increasing awareness and demand for action as communities in Canada and around the world already experienced its detrimental effects. The federal government has followed the lead of countless municipalities across the country by declaring a climate emergency. Voters and activists are demanding a leaders’ election debate solely on the climate crisis.

Voting is a right, but becoming an informed citizen is a responsibility

The incumbent Liberal government’s environmental record has been criticized from both sides of the political spectrum. The Conservatives say they can meaningfully reduce emissions without a carbon tax, instead focusing on big polluters, who will be forced to spend money investing in clean technology if they exceed emissions limits. Their plan has been dismissed by Mark Jaccard, a member of the United Nations (UN)’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as so insufficient that emissions would actually rise. The NDP’s plan builds on the Liberals’ carbon tax and intertwines action on  the climate crisis with settler-Indigenous reconciliation and job creation, in a plan that it says will cost $15 billion and reduce emissions by 38 per cent by 2030.

The Green Party, however, has dismissed all of the above as inadequate. Its ambitious plan calls for an all-party “war cabinet” to address the crisis, as well as a pledge to stop importing oil and instead only use Canadian energy, and double the country’s emissions reductions target from 30 per cent to 60 per cent by 2030 and reach 100 per cent by 2050.

Voters will have the opportunity to evaluate each party’s plan during the campaign. Young people, in particular, should pay close attention. While no one will escape the consequences of the climate crisis, it is we who will be most impacted by it.

The UN recently announced that we only have until 2030 to take drastic action on climate change. Some scientists warn the situation is even more dire, and that the deadline for action is as soon as next year. Therefore, this election may be the last chance to elect a government that will take the necessary steps to solve the climate crisis. Once the world’s temperature rises, there is no turning back.

Oliver Zhao is a second-year Criminology & Sociolegal Studies and International Relations student at Woodsworth College.

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