Editorial, Opinion

Toward a more democratically engaged student body

In six days, universities across the province—McGill included—will be cancelling classes for Quebec’s  provincial election day. Many students may already be making plans to enjoy the cool fall weather or catch up on the classes they missed during add/drop. Considerably fewer may be actively planning to vote. But, enjoying the long weekend and fulfilling civic duties are not mutually exclusive—voting can be simple and convenient, and McGill students have a responsibility to be engaged in their community.

McGill students, even those without roots in Quebec, do not live in a bubble. While some students may be in the province temporarily, the student community is not, and their interests are at stake. The Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ), the Parti Québécois (PQ), and Québec Solidaire (QS) have all promised increased funding for post-secondary institutions, and the latter two have pledged to make tuition free. Immigration has been the election’s defining concern, with the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and the PLQ fiercely debating whether to cut the number of new immigrants accepted to Quebec by 20–24 per cent—a decision that could impact international students’ futures. Even issues that are not explicitly specific to students, like environmentalism and austerity, should be strong motivators for young people to cast a ballot.

When students do get involved, the impact can be significant. Student groups in Quebec, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and Our Turn National Action Plan, a group advocating for the improvement of sexual assault policy in Canadian universities, were essential in creating Bill 151, An Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions. The new law requires that all post-secondary institutions “establish a policy to prevent and fight sexual violence.” In April 2018, SSMU and the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) released an open letter to Quebec Minister of Higher Education Hélène David alleging that McGill was in violation of the law. McGill’s recent efforts to improve its reputation with regard to sexual violence did not occur in a vacuum: Progress is the result of politically engaged students advocating for their interests at the provincial level.

Even with only six days until election day, it is not too late to get involved beyond just voting. Campaigns always need people willing to make phone calls, distribute pamphlets, or even do behind-the-scenes logistical work. But participation does not need to be be partisan. Volunteering with non-partisan advocacy groups, such as Apathy is Boring, a non-profit dedicated to improving youth political engagement, or the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), which helps Quebecers find English-language services, are equally valuable ways of engaging with political life.

McGill has made voting easy and accessible. Classes are cancelled on Oct. 1 in accordance with Quebec’s Election Act, and an advance polling station will be open in the Carrefour Sherbrooke residence until Sept. 27. To be eligible to vote, you must be at least 18 years old, a Canadian citizen, and domiciled in Quebec, so some students may be unknowingly eligible to vote.

The 2018 Quebec election is also the first in the province’s history to feature a televised leaders’ debate in English. It has never been easier for McGill students to get informed and get involved.

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