Millions of students will head to the polls on Sept. 20 to vote in the federal election. With the semester underway and the pandemic here to stay, many people feel lost in a dizzying haze of parties, ideologies, and options. From climate change, to racial injustice, to more efficient healthcare, countless priorities are on the ballot. More than deciding between parties and candidates, many voters are asking themselves what issues should take precedence, which political decisions will best serve their causes, and for some, whether it is worth voting at all. Granted, no one can be forced to vote. But with so many important issues that impact students sparring in the political arena, every eligible voter should take the time to inform themselves and cast the ballot of their choice.
Although Elections Canada has suspended the Vote on Campus program this year, voters can mail in their ballots or pick up a special ballot at an Elections Canada office until Sept. 14. Election officials have cited the pandemic as well as the snap-pace of the election as logistical justifications for the campus voting program’s cancellation. Even so, students can reasonably be concerned that the current parliament is not doing enough to facilitate turnout. But that is even more of a reason to vote early and encourage others to do the same. If the government has blundered the election process, it should answer for it on Sept. 20.
In response to some of these barriers, McGill’s administration has taken some steps to assist student voters. In an Aug. 31 email, Secretary-General Edyta Rogowska discouraged staff from scheduling academic deadlines on Sept. 20 and asked them to accommodate students when necessary. Nevertheless, because many courses have mandatory attendance or are not recorded, some students may be reluctant to miss lectures for the polls. Those in this position should consider mail-in or early voting. But McGill could go further by disseminating resources, identifying nearby polling places, and requiring professors to permit absences for voting purposes. As a public institution and educational space, the university has a basic obligation to encourage young voters to make their opinions heard and support democratic participation.
Student organizations like the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) have already been promoting election materials and helping voters make informed choices. For example, the AUS held a virtual debate between the presidents of the different political party-affiliated clubs on Sept. 13, providing students with a variety of perspectives and answers to policy positions. Students interested in learning more about the federal parties should reach out to these clubs, including Liberal McGill, New Democratic Party (NDP) McGill, the Conservative Students’ Association of McGill, Young Greens McGill, and others. Some of these clubs have planned “Get Out to Vote” initiatives. Students should take part in these to help others learn about the different parties’ ideas in preparation for election day. Even students who are ineligible to vote, such as international students, should learn about the issues raging across the country as the election unfolds. Canada’s next government will make decisions that affect all students, and everyone has the agency to promote candidates of their choice on social media and elsewhere, as well as encourage friends to vote.
Above all, it is imperative that students not be apathetic. An election—especially an early one—is a rare occasion to turn rhetoric into votes, and ideas into policies. People may disagree on the merits of voting based on one’s conscience—such as voting for a party that they feel most represents them—or strategically voting for a candidate to block another that they vehemently disagree with from power. Although that decision is ultimately up to the individual, everyone should agree that votes do count—even if a riding typically skews a certain way. Students should vote in this election, and all the ones to follow, because today’s prevailing questions are the policies of tomorrow and the shape of Canada’s future.
For more information on the political parties and their candidates, consult the Elections Canada website; voter information guides published by Macleans, Global News, and other media outlets; or the different political organizations’ web pages.