Post secondary issues absent in election coverage

A York University political scientist says students’ diverse political beliefs and low voter turnout means post-secondary education does not get the attention it could during elections.
“In terms of electoral calculus, parties don’t pay a lot of attention to students,” says Robert MacDermid. “They don’t determine the outcome of the election, though they could in some ridings.”
David Whorley, a Brock professor of political science, agrees. He cites a recent Ipsos Reid poll that indicated that 21 per cent of Ontarians aged 21-34 do not plan to vote in the upcoming election.
“Given that over 20 per cent of this group has effectively opted out, there should be no expectation that issues of primary importance to young voters will get the attention they deserve,” he says. “There is something of a vicious circle at work here: the less likely they are to vote, the less attention young voters receive, and this reduced attention in turn reinforces the choice to opt out.”
Adam Spence, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Students’ Alliance (OUSA), says “there’s a bit of a disconnect” in the general public about understanding the link between post-secondary education and the benefits it provides.
“Given that post-secondary education is an economic and social mobility driver, it is surprising,” he says.
He cites the example of Ontario’s doctors, and how there has been no connection made between the shortage of doctors, particularly in northern and rural areas, and barriers to access for students from these areas.
“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” says Whorley. He says many younger people prefer to practice politics through interest groups – for instance joining Greenpeace instead of a political party. He says political parties need to reach out to young members, and give them access to real power rather than just using them as “cheerleaders.” He cites the example of Mike Harris, who was surrounded by young people as he developed the “Common Sense Revolution.”
“They took a moribund party and took it somewhere – to two terms.”
He praises the current Elections Ontario advertising campaign, targeted at younger voters, that illustrates the concept of “letting others speak for you.”
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), however, was less enamored with the agency – on Sept. 19 they issued a press release calling the rules governing student voters contradictory and confusing. They say Elections Ontario material gives the impression students may only vote in the riding where their parents reside.
“Much has been made about the low turnout for young voters, but few people are talking about the confusing nature of Ontario’s voting system,” said Joel Duff, Ontario chair of the CFS.
Spence says OUSA’s response is to reiterate to students that it is their right to vote in the riding they consider their permanent home. He says the organization has been reminding students to register beforehand, and to bring appropriate identification including a piece of mail such as a utility bill if the address on their ID does not match their current one.
“You can’t turn away someone with all the valid requirements,” he says.
- with files from the Excalibur

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