Post-secondary students may see their impact muted at the ballot box in the upcoming provincial election on May 9.
That’s because voting day will fall after the spring semester has ended for most students.
Blake Edwards, president of the UBC Okanagan Student Union, called it “super bad timing” as many students will have left the campus either to return home or to work for the summer when the election campaign officially starts leading up to voting day.
Edwards said the Alliance of BC Students, which UBCO Student Union is a member of, petitioned Elections BC to have more initiatives taken, such as advanced polls, to accommodate voting students but there “was no real effort” to respond to their concerns.
Samantha Wall, internal director of Okanagan College Student Union, acknowledged the same obstacle in generating an interest for students to vote.
“It’s an unfortunate timeline for this election as most students will be clearing out of our campus for summer over the next few weeks,” she said.
However, both the Alliance of B.C. Students and BC Federation of Students, which the OC Student Union is affiliated with, are still pushing forward with campaigns to get out the student vote.
Simka Marshall, chair of the BCFS, said their campaign’s student leaders and volunteers will be fanning out across campuses in B.C. to engage students directly and encourage them to realize their vote does matter.
“Students and youth turned out in record numbers in this past federal election (in October 2015) and helped tip a number of very close races,” Marshall said.
“Our message to students is simple: This election will be incredibly close, every vote will count, and every vote will make a difference.”
Marshall said while their campaign hopes to build off the momentum created in the last federal election, she agreed a helpful factor there was the election occurring during the fall school session.
As a result in this region, both Okanagan College and UBCO were able to hold federal all-candidates events and other activities to generate student interest.
Marshall said their federation represents students at 14 different post-secondary institutions across B.C., and can carry a lot of weight at the ballot box if they exercise their collective right to vote.
“The stereotype that university students are apathetic and apolitical is simply not true, ” said Marshall. “Research shows that students are politically engaged when it comes to attending rallies or working for organizations to bring about change.
“We saw that in the federal election and the federal Liberals benefited greatly from that, so we are hoping to build off that momentum and see young voters turn out in record numbers for the B.C. election.”
Edwards said student voting influence is perhaps most notable in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, where the UBC campus students and riding resident faculty essentially can decide who the winning MLA will be.
Clark lost the riding in the 2013 election although the Liberals won a majority, causing Ben Stewart to step aside from his Westside-Kelowna seat to allow Clark the opportunity to successfully succeed him in a by-election.
Wall and Edwards say issues confronting students currently include rising tuition rates, lack of affordable housing, and Residential Tenancy Act rental protection provisions not applying to students living in campus dorms.
“We would like to see universities and colleges allowed to take on debt to help fund additional campus housing,” Edwards said.