They’re not traditionally considered a reliable voting bloc, but students and youth were the dominant voice at a campaign event Thursday at the University of Victoria.
“Basically we’re just trying to provide a platform for students to come, talk to the candidates and ask them directly about the issues that matter to them,” said Maxwell Nicholson, UVic Students’ Society director of campaigns and community relations.
Candidates mixed and mingled with the student population during Thursday’s South Island candidates fair in UVic’s Student Union Building.
Nicholson said the UVSS has been advocating on a host of issues from increasing the use of open textbooks and reducing the rate on student loans to combating sexualized violence on campus and increasing the supply of affordable housing.
“There’s a big housing shortage in Victoria that especially affects students. Students care about a broad range of issues: the environment, the economy, social services. This is a way for them to talk to the candidates directly about the issues that matter to them.”
He said political interest is growing on campus, pointing to the 150 who turned up for a debate for Oak Bay – Gordon Head candidates last month and the record turnout among student voters in the 2015 federal election.
“For the federal election, we had long lineups around the building [at advanced polls]. People were waiting over two hours to vote so that shows students care about politics,” said Nicholson. “We need to break down that stigma that students don’t care.”
One of those students who care is Elizabeth Stark, who was at the candidates fair doing her homework for the May 9 provincial election.
“I just want to know more about it. It’s my first time voting so I want to learn things and see where I should stand,” said Stark, a first-year psychology student at UVic.
Ella Massym is another first-year UVic student who will be voting in her first election next month.
“I wanted to come out and look at the different parties and see which one I would agree most with,” said Massym, who lists the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the minimum wage as her top issues.
“I’m going to be living on my own next year and I’m going to need a job. I can’t even imagine trying to pay my rent with the minimum wage,” she said.
Nicholson said contrary to public perception, students do care about the issues, but because many are away from home or move frequently, they often don’t know where their nearest polling station is, or what ID is required to vote.
“It’s nice for this election we have advanced polling going on so students can conveniently come and vote,” he said. “It’s just a matter of removing those barriers for students so that they can spend their time focusing on getting informed, finding out who they want to vote for, rather than all the nitpicky details on registration and polling stations.”