If you voted in the federal election last year, great! You played an important role in shaping the future of our country; however, I would argue that the upcoming provincial election is of greater importance. If you would like to have a more tangible influence on the place in Canada you call home, then you need to start thinking provincially.
Provincial parties, far more than the Federal Libs or Cons, dictate our local politics: from health care and social services, to public education, environmental protection, funding for the arts, housing, taxes, and more. But unfortunately, when it comes to political apathy, we are far more disengaged on the provincial level.
Since 1996, voter turnout for B.C. provincial elections has hovered between 55-58 per cent, with a low of 50 per cent in 2009. Federally, the number sits closer to 65-70 per cent, which is still nothing to brag about.
I want to express the importance of the upcoming provincial election by explaining the relation it will have to two of the most important issues for students: the cost of tuition, and the minimum wage. But first, I need to clear the air with a little B.C. politics 101.
The B.C. Liberal Party is in no way connected to the federal Liberal Party. Christy Clark does not work for Justin Trudeau. Classical liberalism is a term that has historically been connected with right-wing conservatism, so when you think B.C. Liberals, think more Stephen Harper, and less Justin Trudeau.
So, why should any of this matter to you? Let’s start with the issue of tuition.
Have you heard that Ontario is offering free university to students in the province? It’s a little more complicated than that. Basically, any student that needs help paying for university, or whose household family income is less than $50,000 is able to to receive a government of Ontario grant covering 100 per cent of that student’s tuition costs. Half of students from family incomes of less than $83,000 will qualify for non-repayable grants for tuition. Do you still think provincial elections are for nerds? Well, you may be right, but, ***newsflash, being a student makes you a nerd!
If you think students are a strong investment into the future of our country’s economy, and that governments should wise up and start subsidising us students, the country’s future, instead of oil and big business, then make your voice heard by voting in the election that actually addresses this issue. Of course the alternative is, if you think all government interference is abhorrent, you loathe the idea of paying other people’s way in life, and dread your tax dollars going towards social welfare, then it is also imperative that you too make your voice heard at the provincial election. (Just don’t sit beside me on the government-provided city bus. Please?)
What about minimum wage? Post-secondary students make up the largest workforce making minimum wage. So it shouldn’t surprise us when we learn that student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt, or that students are leaving university with an average of $27,000 in university related debt and student loans, according to stats provided by the Canada Student Loans Program, not to mention mental health issues caused by stress. “Students who took out more student loans were more likely to report poor mental health in early adulthood,” said Katrina M. Walsemann, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina, as reported by ***the Canadian Press.
A concrete and immediate way to help students contain the pressure of mounting student debt, and correlatively to combat mental illness and stress, is to raise minimum wage closer to a “living wage,” which is $16.03 in the Fraser Valley, according to livingwagecanada.ca.
Find out which provincial party correlates with your values on the issues that matter, and vote accordingly.
If politicians see that students are becoming a substantial part of the voter base, they will begin to acknowledge us. That’s how the system works; people who crave power become politicians, and politicians in turn pander to their voter base in order to maintain power. It’s time students begin to play the system. Until we begin to play a role in the political landscape by voting, we will continue to be ignored by the parties seeking power.
The provincial elections are more important than federal when it comes to dictating the support (or lack thereof) students will receive from the government. Minimum wage and university funding are only two waves in the body of water that is provincial politics, but they should be more than enough to shake students from their apathetic stupor, and help us realize that our boat is sinking. Nobody is going to help us. We need to help ourselves; we need to demand recognition. We need to vote.