Op-ed: This election, youth must vote — whatever your politics

We have the numbers, so let's go make a difference

Op-ed: This election, youth must vote — whatever your politics

My name is Saeda Ali and I’m a volunteer with a non-partisan, non-profit organization called Future Majority at UTSC.

Future Majority is working to get students out to vote in the upcoming federal election to accelerate our values as young Canadians into the forefront of political decision-making. We are operating in more than 20 campuses, in 40 ridings, with over 600 volunteers.

I was inspired to volunteer with Future Majority at UTSC because I wanted to remind my peers that our concerns about our futures matter and need to be taken seriously by politicians. More often than not, young people underestimate the power of their vote. We fail to inform ourselves about how current policies impact us because many of us don’t believe that politicians listen to us.

When I found out that Millennials and Generation-Z — those aged 18–34 — now make up the largest voting bloc in Canada, I knew I had to get involved. Our vote can change the trajectory of the election and the political landscape of Canada.

While volunteering with Future Majority, I’ve been able to go around campus and speak to fellow students about the upcoming election. I have heard first-hand accounts of the issues that are impacting young Canadians. Three issues have repeatedly been brought up: the rising cost of education, unaffordable housing in the GTA, and the climate crisis.

With the recent changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, there is a heightened concern around the mountains of student debt students now face after graduation — which is especially worrisome considering it is more and more difficult to get a good job after graduating in order to pay off loans.

Trying to find a place to live — especially in the GTA — is increasingly unaffordable for young Canadians. This has forced many students to live at home or commute long distances to university — sometimes an hour-and-a-half each way!

The climate crisis is the biggest issue brought up by U of T students. People are scared for their futures. The United Nations has given us less than 11 years to solve this problem. This means we need action, like, yesterday. Many students expressed concern that no political party is going to do enough to reduce our carbon footprint and promote sustainable business practices. Many U of T students want to see Canada become a world leader in preserving and protecting the environment for future generations. We can make sure that happens.

As a Political Science major, I have learned that one of the fundamental aspects of democracy is the right to vote. Canadians have the privilege of choosing their political representatives. In a world where not everyone is afforded this opportunity, the right to vote should not be taken lightly.

With schedules filled with lectures, tutorials, and extracurricular commitments, many students find that they simply can’t find time to go out of their way to find a polling station. Luckily, voting has become more accessible for students than ever before.

Students at all three U of T campuses have the option of voting on their campus from Saturday, October 5 to Wednesday, October 9. Students voting at on-campus polling stations have the option of voting for either candidates from their home riding or school riding, if they have the right documentation.

There will be 121 stations set up at 109 schools, making it easier than ever for students across the nation to vote. This is a huge increase from the 39 on-campus polling stations that were set up in the 2015 election.

If you are curious about how to vote you can visit the Go Vote! website— a microsite developed by Future Majority to educate young Canadians about the election.

Future Majority will be bringing attention to on-campus polling stations by hiring canvassers at UTM and UTSC during the on-campus polling week to literally walk thousands of students to the polls.

Future Majority is projected to walk 30,000 students directly to polls, coast-to-coast. This could have a significant impact on an election that is predicted to be tight.

This October, young Canadians have the power to send a message to every political party that we can no longer be ignored. If U of T students vote in high numbers, we can influence ridings across the entire GTA. We can ensure that no political party can win without the youth vote — they literally cannot ignore us!

By getting out to vote in high numbers, politicians will no longer get elected if they don’t promise to address the issues which matter to youth. Given the power that we now hold, this election is our opportunity to have our voices finally heard and create a Canada that addresses the concerns we have for our futures.

Saeda Ali is a second-year Political Science and International Development student at UTSC and a volunteer at Future Majority.

Dr. David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis urge U of T students to vote “Climate First”

Climate crisis should be a top priority for voters in the federal election, say the activists

Dr. David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis urge U of T students to vote “Climate First”

Dr. David Suzuki, a prominent Canadian environmentalist and author, and Stephen Lewis, a respected humanitarian and former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations (UN), are advocating for the climate crisis to be a key issue in Canada’s upcoming federal election.

As part of a tour called “Climate First,” Suzuki, Lewis, and Indigenous activist and singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie are speaking about their advocacy at U of T’s Convocation Hall on September 14

The environmentalists are advocating for U of T students to support candidates who prioritize fighting the climate crisis in this year’s election on October 21.

The opportunity of the upcoming federal election

In the 2015 Canadian federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada won a parliamentary majority with the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As the Canadian federal election is fast approaching, Suzuki and Lewis have felt it crucial to draw voters’ attention to the effect this election’s result could potentially have on climate change.

Suzuki and Lewis spoke to The Varsity about their perspectives. “We want the next four years for Canada to play a leading role internationally in getting the world to recognize that we are in danger of self-destruction if we don’t respond dramatically,” explained Lewis.

Lewis continued by listing a series of catastrophic consequences of significant rise in average global temperature, including “the destruction of agricultural land, the melting of the polar caps, the inundation of the coastal regions, the way in which people are experiencing upheaval, [and] millions of [people displaced by the crisis] as it gets worse and worse.”

Controversy on 11 years left to save the climate

Lewis highlighted the urgency of the matter, saying that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has “made it clear that there are only 11 years left to save the planet.”

The IPCC is an association of the UN that aims to provide regular scientific assessments of the climate crisis.

The deadline has been reaffirmed by UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, according to a press release.

However, the widespread stance that there are 11 years left to save the climate has been controversial among climate scientists.

“We don’t have 12 years to prevent climate change — we have no time,” said Dr. Kate Marvel, a NASA scientist, in a January 2019 interview with Axios. “[C]limate change isn’t a cliff we fall off — it’s a slope we slide down.”

Scientists writing in Nature Climate Change have also challenged the legitimacy of setting a deadline for the climate crisis, though research institutes such as Concordia University maintain that a tipping point could be in 11 years.

Regardless of the deadline’s controversy, 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, according to NASA. Both Marvel and the writers of the Nature opinion piece agree that the climate crisis is an urgent issue that people should address.

How U of T students can fight the climate crisis in the upcoming election

When it comes to what U of T students can do to help fight climate change, Suzuki encourages them to positively get involved in voting for the election.

Since young adults from the ages of 18–22 traditionally have a poor record of voting, Suzuki thinks it necessary for current U of T students to be aware of the “big decisions” the government can make on the issue of climate change. 

“We want to remind the students at the University of Toronto that they’re going to face [the consequences of the climate crisis],” reinforced Lewis.

Suzuki encouraged voters to treat climate crisis advocacy as warfare. Framing the crisis this way, he added, enables voters and political representatives to “respond as a single country, as if we were going to war.”

Students should attend campaign meetings to raise the issue of the climate crisis, Lewis noted, and advocate to their parents and friends about the urgency of the crisis. Crucially, said Lewis and Suzuki, students should prioritize the climate crisis at the ballot box.

“You ought to be voting for people that are saying that climate is an issue of the highest priority,” said Suzuki.

Op-ed: Low student participation in recent referenda is cause for concern

Increasing fees with low voter turnout undermines democracy

Op-ed: Low student participation in recent referenda is cause for concern

Every year, the university collects nearly $40 million from students to distribute to student societies. As a student at U of T, your membership in these societies is determined for you, as is the laundry list of compulsory fees you’ll be paying to them. In exchange for annual funding from students, the university requires that student societies act in an open, accessible, and democratic manner.

Democracy requires participation, but just how much participation is required for a decision to be democratic? This is a question that student societies rarely ask themselves, even when they are faced with evidence of debilitatingly low engagement. It is also a question that the student body should take more seriously.

In October 2016, Fusion Radio, the community radio station at UTSC, held a referendum to increase their membership fee from $4.85 to $12.85 — an increase of nearly 200 per cent. Neither their bylaws nor the relevant university policies outlined a minimum number of students that had to vote for the referendum to be valid. When the polls closed, only 59 students had cast a ballot. With the expressed support of less than than 1 per cent of members, Fusion increased the fee that all 13,000 students would be required to pay. In an interview with the campus newspaper, the president of the radio station said they “did not consider it a bad turnout.”

More recently, The Varsity’s fee increase referenda received negligible support from students. The referendum to increase the membership fee by $0.80 a session for full-time undergraduate students saw a total of 656 votes, a turnout of roughly one per cent of eligible voters. A larger question was presented to full-time graduate students, who were set to decide whether or not to become members of The Varsity. A ‘yes’ vote on this referendum would bind all full-time graduate students to membership in The Varsity and the fee that comes with it. That fee is now a total of $0.80 per session after the referendum passed by a narrow margin; it received 127 total votes, a turnout of roughly 0.77 per cent.

With the support of 534 full-time undergraduates — including myself — The Varsity is set to increase its fee for all 65,000 members. More worryingly, with the support of less than 1 per cent of those affected, all full-time graduate students at U of T will become members of The Varsity.  

This should worry you. The decisions that we make today will affect those who follow us, and it’s important that those decisions are made fairly. Students pay an extraordinary amount in fees to student societies every year and deserve a say in how those fees are created and changed. Holding a referendum allows student societies to request a mandate from their members to take action. Without a reasonable turnout, the results of a referendum give no such mandate.

While student groups are autonomous from the university, they should meet basic standards of governance if they expect to collect fees from students. Although the university sets out minimum requirements that protect the rights of individual students, student societies are mostly left to their own devices when creating specific governing documents, including the rules that govern referenda.

Student societies, especially those that receive little to no engagement from students, should be particularly diligent in governing themselves justly. These groups should put in place rules that not only encourage member engagement in referenda, but require it. At the minimum, every student society should set turnout requirements for referenda.

Student societies that choose not to hold themselves to a higher standard have cause for concern. Following the Fusion referendum, members of both the UTSC Council and the University Affairs Board questioned the results of the vote. If concerned enough, these groups have the ability to block a fee increase from reaching students. I have no doubt that The Varsity’s request will see similar criticisms. Eventually something will break, and when it does, you’ll want your house to be in order.

Earlier this year, the University of Toronto Students’ Union and eleven other student societies came together to request that the Policy on Open, Accessible, and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations be amended to introduce specific language that protects the democratic rights of students. We’re pushing the university to make online voting mandatory in all student society elections and referenda and to implement a minimum quorum for any fee increase that is not already authorized.

If student societies at U of T want to be taken seriously, they need to start behaving seriously. We’re talking about students’ money. This isn’t child’s play.

 

Daman Singh is a fourth-year student at University College studying Political Science and Philosophy. He is the Vice-President, Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union.