Tomorrow Ontarians will be casting their ballots in the 42nd Ontario general election, however, the make-up of voters will be significantly different than in previous elections. On June 7th, millennial-aged voters will be the largest and most diverse block of eligible voters in Ontario, and eligible Gen Z voters will be casting their ballots for the first time.
Some may roll their eyes at this thought. Youth voters are all apathetic, right? Well, that view is not entirely accurate. The 2015 federal election witnessed an increase of 18 percentage points in young voter turnout, and the most recent Ontario election experienced a 10 percentage point increase. This trend can be expected to continue, with student groups across Ontario encouraging their students to pledge to vote. In light of this, why are key youth issues left out of the main discourse of the election?
The most notable youth issues revolve around post-secondary education. Ontario’s universities are home to more than 515,000 students, and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development is responsible for approximately $8.4 billion of Ontario’s operating budget. In total, post-secondary education and training makes up 7.4% of Ontario’s 2018-19 budget, exceeding Ontario’s Justice sector (3.2%), and almost matching Ontario’s debt interest payments (7.9%), a number we’ve heard discussed quite often over these past few weeks.
So why is post-secondary not at the forefront of the discourse surrounding the upcoming election? Whether it be the chronic underfunding of Ontario’s post-secondary universities, the issues of mental health and sexual violence on our campuses, or rising tuition and ancillary fee costs, there is still much to be improved upon to ensure Ontario continues to have an affordable, accessible, and high quality post-secondary sector.
After all, investments in education do not just support students. They ensure Ontario has a skilled workforce ready for the jobs of tomorrow. They promote progress towards Indigenous reconciliation, and promote economic prosperity in regions all over the province, including Northern communities. Universities alone, produce $24.7 billion in economic activity due to research and development. Institutions employ communities, pioneer research, and contribute to sectors from healthcare to the environment. Investing in post-secondary education means investing in Ontario’s future.
So how can we end youth apathy? We can talk about this issues that matter to young people; how they affect their wallet now and in the future. Parties should speak to current students, as well as their parents, grandparents, and maybe even their kids. The post-secondary sector in Ontario is more diverse than it ever has been, but parties still need to address the most common, province-wide issues that these Ontarians face.
Just as healthcare and K-12 education are considered foundational to Canadian social policy, higher education has earned the right to be considered the same. Post-secondary education in Ontario equips 802,000 students to contribute to the society and economy of tomorrow. As a key pillar of Ontario’s economy and workforce, issues facing students deserve to be at the forefront of our electoral discussions. Hopefully going forward the next government as well as future leaders and candidates from all of Ontario’s political parties take these issues seriously, and start to give them the attention they deserve. After all, this generation of students has the opportunity to decide the outcome of the election, and of many elections left to come.
Sophie Helpard & Colin Aitchison