Post-secondary students shafted in Ontario debates

In nine days, Ontarians will head to the polls to vote in the provincial elections.

A debate was held tonight on TVO’s The Agenda in anticipation of June 12 (election day). The candidates stood by podiums, dressed in drab suits, speaking with their hands waving at their sides, as if they could convey their messages through their stiff arms and piercing stares into the camera.

The debate, in short, was dull. Nothing concretely different was said, and only certain topics were addressed. Of the issues not discussed were health care, social housing, poverty, and post-secondary education.

That’s okay though, because for the last four weeks these party leaders have been travelling the province, telling everyone what they think about health care, social housing, and poverty. They have visited hospitals, factories, and small businesses.

What about post-secondary education? Well, each candidate has made a single announcement regarding their plan to tackle tuition and apprenticeship programs. After those original, and short, speeches, the issue was forgotten. It was lost in the midst of million-job-math and gas-plant scandals. Isn’t that how it always goes?

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been creating this map for CTV where I track the leaders as they make their campaign stops throughout Ontario. Every day I search the web, look at press releases, and read coverage from these media stops. I’ll contain my surprise when I noticed that not once has a candidate gone to a university or a college to woo the student vote.

I remember a time when entire debates were held on campuses, so that students could ask the candidates questions about issues that affected them—tuition, unemployment, unpaid internships, transit, health care, ect. But, this year, not one candidate has done so. To them, the term “student” means their grade five sons or daughters who struggle with discovery math.

So, what are the party leader’s plans for post-secondary education? For those who aren’t actively looking for this information, here it is:

Kathleen Wynne’s PSE plan: They will continue to offer their 30 per cent off tuition grant for post secondary education. They promise to build new campuses and create spaces for 15,000 more post secondary students in Ontario. And they will  increase the number of apprentices training in Ontario.

Tim Hudak’s PSE plan:The PCs will cut the current Ontario tuition grant and reduce funding across government departments.

Andrea Horwath’s PSE plan: The NDP will freeze on tuition for post-secondary education, and make  provincial student loans interest free.

None of the plans are comprehensive, and none of the plans outlined how these statements will make it easier or better for young adults.

If you hadn’t noticed, I was very disappointed with the debate tonight. I don’t know who picked the questions, but they were ambiguous, and open-ended. It allowed the party leaders to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. No one directly answered any of the questions, and everyone spent at least half of their time trying to make their opponents look bad.

I would actually like to see the dissolution of political parties, and political debates. I would rather see a group of people sitting around a table discussing ideas, free from political ties and campaign stump speeches. I want to see innovation, creativity, and genuine willingness to think outside of the box. It shouldn’t be about winning an election. It should be about working together to govern our province.

But, tonight, the political party leaders have proven once again that all they care about is winning. They’ve decided that they aren’t going to address parts of the population unless they are guaranteed a vote, and this includes youth.

There are a few reasons why youth don’t vote as much as the rest of the population. The first is that we feel like we aren’t represented enough in politics—if politicians aren’t going to address our concerns, why should we vote for them? The second is that we are cynical of the political system as a whole—we are supposed to vote for our riding representative, but in fact we have to vote for a party instead, because who we vote for is symbolic of who we want to be Premier (this makes no sense!). There is, of course, dozens of other reasons for people not to vote, but, you know what, that shouldn’t matter.

Anyone over the age of 18 can vote in Ontario. Therefore the needs of people age 18 and over should be a consideration for every candidate in a provincial election. An elected representative shouldn’t care if someone votes for them or not. What they should care about is accurately speaking for everyone who lives in their riding. By actively choosing to ignore youth—people ages 18-24—politicians are saying that they don’t care about that demographic. They don’t care that we are tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They don’t care that our tuition is the highest in the country. They don’t care that we have to take on low-paying jobs and unpaid volunteer positions just to gain experience or to pay rent.

We mean nothing to them, and that was proven yet again during this debate.

I’m usually someone who advocates voting. I tell everyone that if they don’t vote, they can’t complain later on when our government does something they don’t like. I tell them that it is our civic duty to fill out a ballot, and that there are people dying all around the world for this exact same right. For goodness sake, you just have to look at the posts in my blog to know that I am a political geek.

But, as an active citizen, when my needs are completely ignored, I begin to understand where these non-voters are coming from.

Maybe I will do as Steve Paikin suggested at the end of the debate and “decline my ballot.” Because really, is there anyone worth voting for?

 

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