It’s time to in­clude stu­dents in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL - Sofia Descalzi, chair Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dents — New­found­land and Labrador

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.

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