While many student government elections have wrapped up across Ontario universities, the provincial election is steadily approaching, and students need to be prepared to cast their ballot come June 8th. Free and independent voting is an essential part of our democracy, and it is important that students know how vital their participation is in shaping the future of their province. Voting is not only your right as a citizen, but also one way for you to act as an agent of change. As a post-secondary student, although you might think that your vote is minuscule or feel that it doesn’t really matter, I’m here to tell you, and show you, that it really does matter!
While it’s true that youth voters in Ontario between the ages of 18-25 have the lowest rate of voter registration out of all age groups in Ontario, the main reason behind these statistics is not because students are apathetic or don’t care to vote, but rather, lack the necessary information they need to register (note: you do not have to be a registered voter to vote in Ontario). For example, Elections Ontario cites a lack of education about voter registration and voting for youth under the age of 18, which may deter new voters, including many first-year university and college students, from registering and voting. Despite this, early outreach and education, including initiatives like the #StudentsVote campaign, can help better prepare students to make educated voting decisions. What is encouraging and reflects meaningful student participation is that statistics from the last provincial election in 2014 show a 10 percent increase in the voter turnout among 18-24 year olds, growing from 24% in 2011 to 34% in 2014. Although this is a positive trend and encouraging to know as we approach this year’s election, as students we need to pledge to vote and commit to heading to the polls come June 8th if we want our voices to be heard. Leading up to the 2014 provincial election, university students expressed concerns over tuition prices and financial aid, as well as the need for increased work-integrated learning opportunities and open educational resources. Students recommended a number of measures for the provincial government to take related to these key areas, and over the last four years we were able to see some significant change. In 2015, $220 million dollars was allocated for improving student financial assistance, including an increased loan maximum. In 2016, $365 million dollars of tax credits were repurposed into grants for low-income students, better known as The New OSAP, making higher education more accessible for Ontarians. On top of this, in 2017 $190 million dollars was invested into the Career Kick-Start Strategy, providing more experiential learning opportunities to students across Ontario. While much more has to be done to ensure all Ontarians have equal access and the support they need to receive a post-secondary education, it has been amazing to see how students voices have shaped policy change in Ontario. This election season, OUSA has listed four top student priorities, including providing quality mental health services, expanding Open Educational Resources, including free textbooks, investing in experiential learning opportunities, and the cost of education for university students. Each of these areas affects the quality and accessibility of education for Ontario students. From mental support to financial support, to co-op programs and experiential learning opportunities, to be successful today and in their future, students need support in these areas.
For some students, our biggest concern at the moment is getting an A on that midterm we’ve spent days studying for, but for many of us, it's also continuously worrying about finances, finding new learning opportunities, and receiving the mental health supports we need. Often times, these concerns often overlap as well. As an Ontario post secondary student, it is important that you make these concerns heard, and voting is just one, but one vital step, in pushing for change. If we want to look back in another four years and see how student voices have shaped our institutions and politics, we have to make sure our policymakers and elected officials hear our concerns today. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of this effort! Pledge to vote today by visiting www.ousavotes.ca and you’ll receive election updates and information to make sure you’re ready come June 8th.