Speak with any student on campus this time of the year about what’s on their mind and you’ll likely get one of the following two responses: the next assignment due in a course, or the next midterm to study for.
However, something else should also be on their minds: the municipal election on October 16.
It’s understandable if the date squeaks by most students, and even Edmontonians in general. Historically, voter turnout for municipal elections has been extremely low. During the most recent municipal election in 2013, only 34.5 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots.
Narrowing in on the campus community, and voter turnout in past University of Alberta Students’ Union elections have not fared much better. Despite having the highest voter turnout since online voting was made available to students, only 29.5 per cent of students voted in this past spring’s Students’ Union election.
Some might blame a low voter turnout among students to voter apathy, but it’s not that they don’t care enough to vote, rather they don’t know how governance plays a role in their daily lives. It’s safe to say students born in Canada may have never lived in an autocracy where the leader or group reigns absolute power, thereby making it hard to understand the importance of a democratic government.
Forgive me if you’re a student who participates actively with local governance and always takes the time to research candidates before casting your ballot — I tip my hat to you for contributing to our society.
Still, there are students out there who don’t know what the Students’ Union can provide, let alone what a municipal government manages.
Here’s a primer: the Students’ Union represents and advocates on behalf of all undergraduate students towards university administration and all three levels of government. With an annual operating budget of more than $10 million, their goal is to provide student services that meet the needs of the campus community including: the Peer Support Centre, Safewalk, and InfoLink. Not to mention the services that they’ve brought to campus, like the Health and Dental Plan.
At this point, you might be asking to see some tangibles that members of the Students’ Union have been able to accomplish over the years. Over the years, the Students’ Union has been able to introduce the U-Pass program for commuter students, lobby the provincial government to freeze post-secondary tuition until fall 2018, and allow for an opt-out program for students who do not need the Health and Dental Plan.
Now take what you know about the Students’ Union, and apply the framework to the entire city. Therefore, the municipal government is responsible for representing the concerns of all 899,447 residents living in Edmonton.
Our city is divided into 12 wards where residents within each ward elect one candidate to represent them on council as their councilor. During a municipal election, residents will also vote for a mayor, and school trustees representing their respective wards. A municipal government incorporates these public figures, along with many administrative officials ranging from engineers to business analysts to human resources professionals, in the decision-making process.
Unlike the provincial and federal levels of government, the municipal level is usually where your voice can make a big difference because most council and committee meetings are open to the public and residents also have the option of requesting to speak during any of those meetings.
In addition, students are most likely to come in contact daily with decisions made from the municipal level compared to the higher levels of government.
For example, consider how you commuted to school this morning via public transit. While part of the funding for infrastructure, buses, and light-rail trains come from the provincial and federal levels of government, the municipal level decides how to efficiently utilize those resources to best meet the needs of residents.
When the local roads are in a state of despair or when they are filled with snow, the municipal government will dispatch the appropriate crews to take care of it. Local police, fire crews, and water management facilities also fall under the jurisdiction of the municipal government.
Given how closely students are affected by decisions made from the municipal level, it would be a no-brainer to exercise your democratic rights and vote in the upcoming municipal election.
But wait — before you run down to cast your ballot, you want to educate yourself on the candidates running and where they stand on the issues that matter to you. It’s as simple as searching for the candidates for your ward online and reading up on their election platforms. This way, you will be able to make an informed voting decision based on who best aligns with your civic priorities.
See you at the voting booth on October 16!