The City of Mississauga took to casting their ballots on October 27, as did many other municipalities across Ontario. As Hazel McCallion decided not to run for another term as mayor, this historic election was the first time her name would not be on the ballot in 36 years and gave way to Mississauga residents to make a new choice for their city.
In Canada’s sixth largest municipality, one would think that mass participation in the election would be a given. A measly 36% came out to make their statement on the direction of this city and what is worse is that this is the highest it has ever been.
Mississauga has seen low voter turnout for the past five elections and has only recently taken a two percent jump since 2010. Two major candidates in the Mississauga mayoral race, Bonnie Crombie, Ward 5 city councilor and former Member of Parliament, and Steven Mahoney, also a former Member of Parliament with experience from sitting as a Minister under Jean Chrétien, competed for support from the various communities across our city.
Then finally came the #SaugaSpeaks: Mayoral Forum on Youth held at the University of Toronto Mississauga hosted by the UTM Debating Club on October 1. The two major candidates took most of the attention of the over 300 students, faculty, and community members that sat in the audience. While both Mahoney and Crombie had assured the audience of their experience and qualifications, they did not put forward any progressive solutions to problems that the city faces. The candidates merely glossed over the issues of youth unemployment and transit. Glossed. Nothing substantive was stated and no one outlined any solutions that would cure the growing youth employment rate. Whatever solutions were proposed contained several holes that could leave youths and students vulnerable to corporations for use as workhorses and cash cows without the affirmation of providing adequate or fair compensation.
I, among many others, wondered when the candidates would talk about affordable childcare access, affordable yet safe student housing, and affordable public transit. None of this was brought up. The forum itself was a façade of youth engagement that gave stage to the frontrunners of the elections but never to the students and youth themselves.
As the campaigns continued, I still could not understand how a student can say that they had chosen a candidate based on a youth issue. Mississauga politics itself seems to inhibit general participation by youth and several other community groups and the continuance of this trend will only push for further alienation of them by the city.
Hearing from the UTM Students‘ Union, VP external Ebi Agbeyegbe saw the city’s work to encourage youth participation as meagre. He placed this responsibility not just on the city, but on the UTM administration as well. He said, “The university administration must work side by side with student groups and the city to reach out to students and the greater community alike.”
While I wait to see how the next four years will unfold, I am hopeful that students will take charge and put their matters as priorities for our new mayor. I call on the administration, faculty, and staff to join students in taking advantage of these next four years to build a meaningful dialogue with city hall in order to encourage youth participation, and not turn them away as they have so far.
Former president of UTSU
UTM alumnus, political science