It’s time to include students in municipal elections
Municipal governments are responsible for addressing the immediate needs of all residents, and it is through our municipalities that people decide who they want to see at the decision-making table. The problem is that only a small percentage of voters aged 18 to 34 ever see themselves represented at these tables.
Only five per cent of voters in the City of St. John’s during the last election were under 24 and a mere 17 per cent were under the age of 34. Without young people voting in municipal elections, the voices that represent the future of this province are not being heard. Therefore, it is necessary to make students — who are essential for the province’s population growth strategy— a priority.
Several steps must be taken to promote voting among students in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Firstly, changes must be made to the Municipalities Act to move the election date to mid-October to ensure students are living in their respective city for at least 30 days prior to voting day. Additionally, the wording of the Municipalities Act must change to encompass all students in the voting process, including non-citizen residents. Finally, municipalities should institute central all-ward polling stations at post-secondary institutions such as Memorial University, so the voting process will meet students, faculty and staff where they are, thus, mitigating the loss of voters who are unable to travel to distant polling stations.
Furthermore, students need a seat at the table where decisions are being made, which means they need to be a member of municipal committees. Though working sessions and public consultations are positive steps towards promoting engagement within the community, if we are serious about inclusiveness, cities and towns need to start giving space to those who need public services the most. Having the ability to vote and meaningfully participate in municipal politics is essential for building inclusive communities and fostering a sense of belonging.
These measures to increase student and youth participation must be combined with the recognition from municipal leaders that student issues are community issues. This means commitments are needed for affordable housing as a prerequisite for a fairer cost of living in all our communities, for all our residents. In order to reduce the skyrocketing costs, our municipalities must also invest in green infrastructures and sustainable energy solutions that are available to all residents, such as charging stations, bicycle lanes and composting. Luckily, there is a wealth of knowledge in building a greener economy available to municipalities with the pool of graduate students who are researching ways we can all enjoy our communities while protecting the environment.
Moreover, improving our public transit is imperative for building stronger, greener and more inclusive communities. Transit must always remain public to prioritize service over profit, and municipalities must be at the forefront of making public transit more accessible. This means increasing routes, implementing proper signage, shelters and bus stop announcements, as well as increasing time efficiency. Most importantly, improving such service must not be put onto the backs of students who are already burdened with massive debt.
As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we also share a major food security challenge due to the realities of isolation and harsh weather hindering our access to healthy food. To address this collective uncertainty, municipalities can be the stimulus for all-season community gardens with training programs and oversight for anyone who wishes to grow their own food.
Finally, we are all burdened with the job crisis in our province, which is severely felt by students who are susceptible to precarious jobs. Municipalities must use their lobby power with the provincial government, as no level of government can be reticent in this challenge. Let our communities serve as role models for other levels of governments by investing in the youth of this province, creating more opportunities and enriching the job market.
It’s time to be serious about improving the living conditions for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, which starts by listening and investing in our youth.