It’s time to in­clude stu­dents in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - ED­I­TO­RIAL -

It’s that time of year again with buses hit­ting the roads bring­ing stu­dents to school for an­other school year. In some cases par­ents will be driv­ing their sons and daugh­ters to school and in other cases, if they live close enough, some stu­dents will be walk­ing.

Great care is taken in warn­ing young peo­ple of the dan­gers of traf­fic and of­ten par­ents go to the bus stop with younger chil­dren to en­sure they get across the road safe and onto the bus.

Buses are now equipped with all kinds of safety de­vises from flash­ing lights to flip out arms and lots of re­flec­tive tape.

Sadly there are some driv­ers that, no mat­ter how many warn­ing signs are up, will still go around a bus even with all the flash­ing lights en­gaged.

What’s the big hurry? A few min­utes out of your life to en­sure that a child gets across the street safely and onto or off a bus should be a top pri­or­ity.

Most driv­ers have a good idea of where the bus stops are in their com­mu­nity and are aware, or should be, of where cross­walks are lo­cated near schools.

In re­cent years many towns have those signs which record a ve­hi­cle’s speed and they are of­ten set up near school zone.

In Stephenville, they’ve been ef­fec­tive in slow­ing down most of the traf­fic when driv­ers com­pare the speed they are do­ing with the posted speed in a school zone.

The town has also in­stalled a flash­ing light sys­tem at the cross­walk on Main Street near McDon­ald’s, where a lot of stu­dents go at din­ner hour.

It seems to be work­ing for the best part, but some driv­ers still tend to go around other ve­hi­cles that are stopped tak­ing a left and de­spite the flash­ing lights.

Sev­eral more of these are planned for cross­walk in­ter­sec­tions in front of Stephenville Mid­dle and Pri­mary Schools and will work well at those lo­ca­tions if driv­ers don’t make their way around stopped ve­hi­cles when the lights are flash­ing.

Peo­ple just seem to be in too much of a rush these days and don’t seem to al­low them­selves enough time to leave from home and get to their des­ti­na­tion.

The thing is, as a driver, if you hit a child on a cross­walk you’ll be held up a lot longer than that mad dash to get through and prob­a­bly end up get­ting charges against you.

In the end, you’ll won­der if the rush to get that cof­fee or get­ting to work on time was all worth it.

School is start­ing this week, folks, and some young peo­ple tend to just walk right across the road with­out look­ing both ways.

The onus is on the driver – the per­son be­hind the wheel of that ve­hi­cle that a child doesn’t have a chance against – to be pru­dent and drive safely where kids may be cross­ing the street and es­pe­cially in school zones.

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 that 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 that 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.

Sofia Descalzi, chair Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dents — New­found­land and Labrador

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