397 voters. 397 students. If a lecture hall worth of students had bothered to cast a ballot, perhaps popular Liberal MP Omar Alghabra would have won. Instead, we have now, for the first time since becoming an official district, a Conservative member of parliament in legislative power.
Does it matter that Mississauga-Erindale is now represented by a Conservative candidate instead of a Liberal one? After all, politicians are obliged to serve all their constituents equally, regardless of political affiliation. So what difference does a party make, really?
For starters, a party makes different policies; different policies on student tuition fees, for example, or post-secondary education funding. A party also serves the interest of one group over the other, indirectly and directly, through public projects or tax reductions, all for the benefit of their own supporters.
Clearly, there is a distinct advantage in being on the winning team. And sitting on the sidelines, like so many of us have recently done, is one way of making sure youre never going to win.
Elections are fought to obtain power, they arent just for show. And the difference between the parties can vary quite dramatically according to each issue.
This past election saw the lowest voter turn-out (59%) in a long time. Significantly, youth voters were one of the smallest segments of the population to vote: only 1 in 5. By withdrawing from this contest for power, young people as a whole are losing out on an opportunity to affect change and influence the development of their society.
So why arent we voting? Really how hard is it to vote in the first place? Why dont students care? These questions, especially the latter have been plaguing us — as a community of students and student leaders — for years.
Student apathy is rampant on campus; just look at how many students turned up for the UTMSU All-Candidates debate on October 9. Forty students. Thats less than an average classroom on campus. Now think about how many turned up to hear the David Suzuki lecture last week. If these students are so concerned with the changes that we make as a country vis-Ã -vis the environment, then need to recognize that the government is the all-important middle man to help implement those changes.
By doubling their voting turn-out, students could make a major difference in elections, possibly electing leaders and parties that have little to no chance of winning (i.e. NDP or the poor Green party who got no seats). As a result, perhaps more parties would be created (Youth Party?), and maybe the big parties would change themselves to attract the new number of youth voters in order to grow their support base.
In Quebec, more young people vote than in any other part of the country. And in a dozen ridings, the Bloc Quebecois beat the Conservatives — holding them back from a majority government — by a small margin of votes.
It is ironic that the rest of Canada owes it to the separatist Bloc for keeping the Conservatives retrained by minority (12 seats short; 75 seats in Quebec; 108 seats in Ontario; 45 in GTA alone). The narrow difference in these crucial battles can mean the difference between a minority or majority, or one party governing as opposed to another.
Lets thank our lucky stars that the folks in Quebec realized this, unlike us.