Trent University’s legacy in municipal politics

Originally published in Arthur Newspaper on November 10, 2014.

The municipal election on October 27 surprised me in its attempted outreach to post-secondary students.

There were several events held on campus by various student organizations, and furthermore, there were candidates who were actively calling on and catering to the student vote.

While not unprecedented, this year the push for students seemed persuasive. There was a resounding call to get more Trent students engaged in municipal politics through the vote.

There was even the introduction of online voting, a method which may be particularly appealing to younger voters.

Additionally to the vote, this year five out of the ten city councillors voted into office are graduates of Trent University.

As an institution of the town, Trent makes its presence known in a variety of ways, and the question of this article is: what is Trent University’s presence in municipal politics?

Systemic issues of voter apathy within the university remain, despite efforts toward engagement.

With a large proportion of out-of-town students, Trent’s community may feel disenfranchised from the results of an election. Students who are only planning on remaining in Peterborough for their degree feel like they should not have a vote in a city they have little stake in.

The issue with this perfectly understandable apathy is that it perpetuates an absence of the student voice in municipal politics, which can negatively affect future students.

In preparing for this article, I did a straw poll on the day of the election to see whether students planned on voting.

Several already had, several intended to, a few said they did not know enough, and several more said that they had tried online but it had not worked.

Distressingly, issues with the online voter registration program had put off several students who had intended to vote.

They said that they had filled out the online registration form and never received a voter card or any information about whether it had succeeded. It left potential voters confused and excluded from the online voting process.

There was also the option of voting at a station on Election Day for those who could not or would not vote online.

These voting stations were set up in various locations around town, and notably on Trent campus at Blackburn Hall.

In this way it was fairly easy for the Trent community to cast their votes, but still several students polled were unaware of where and how they could do it.

Perhaps a more central location on campus, or a campaign on Election Day to inform students of the location would have been helpful.

Another facet to consider is the larger displeasure with the electoral system often leads many students to voter abstention as a mode of resistance.

Increasingly students and others critique the electoral system for its class and business biases.

Whether abstention is an effective mode of resistance is a topic for ideological and political debate, the fact remains that much of student ‘apathy’ is informed dissent from the electoral process.

Besides voting, Trent University has a muted presence through its alumni sitting on council.

Henry Clarke (Ward 2), Dean Pappas (Ward 3), Diane Therrien (Ward 3), Gary Baldwin (Ward 4), and Dave Haacke (Ward 5) are current city council members and they all attended Trent University.

Hopefully, with their first-hand experience at the university, these councillors will be able to represent the interests of students.

Clarke, Pappas, and Baldwin were each raised in Peterborough and chose to continue their education at Trent rather than leave for a new city. Therrien and Haacke both chose to stay in Peterborough after their stints at Trent.

The limited engagement of Trent alumni in the politics of Peterborough may reflect larger patterns of fewer students staying on in the city after graduation.

This is a negative spiral in which student and alumni interests are not represented on council, and therefore the city does not act for the benefit of the Trent community.


Originally published at trentarthur.ca.