Throwback Column: Students Vote or Face the Consequences

The following column was published on The Globe and Mail website on December 16, 2009. I republish it on my personal website now as the topic is revelant to some of my present coverage of Town and Gown in Hamilton's 2018 municipal elections

Students: vote or face the consequences
Joey Coleman, December 16, 2009 at 4:57 PM

The next two calendar years are important for students in Ontario with 2010 municipal elections and 2011 provincial election. If students vote, they could finally see their issues considered by government.

I'm not counting on this happening.

Take Hamilton's Ward 1 as an example. Only 10 students who lived on-campus at McMaster University during the 2006 municipal election voted at the on-campus polling station. There were a total of 151 votes cast at the nearest polling station to the University; a polling station in an area with a majority of student voters. These two polling stations had the lowest voter turnout in the city.

Every politician in Hamilton knows students don't vote and this is why student interests lose out when they're competing with other interest groups.

Because students don't vote, politicians are able to play to the anti-student vote without fear of consequences. Contrast this to the anti-student element that votes and, due to low voter turnout in municipal elections, they gain disproportionate influence over politicians.

In Hamilton, for instance, the incumbent city councillor does his best to work for the interests of the entire community, including students, while in office. But during the election campaign, he has to talk tough against the "problem students" in order to win re-election. To be seen as pro-student is political suicide in most university communities.

The 2010 municipal election season is already well under way across the province and anti-student sentiment is starting to be stirred up by some opportunistic aspiring city councillor candidates.

The starkest example of this is Oshawa, a city which has acted aggressively against students during the last three years. I've been to Oshawa dozens of times since the founding of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and have covered the story of the city's crusade against students since the infamous search warrant raids against student homes in which the city searched for lease agreements and records of rent payments in October of 2007.

The city eventually passed a bylaw which restricts the number of students who can live near the university. Students and landlords, backed by Ontario's chief human rights commissioner Barbara Hall, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Last month, the Court decided against hearing the appeal, leaving the city of Oshawa free to start cracking down on students living in houses near the university.

Shortsighted municipal politicians are again pandering to the worst anti-student elements in Oshawa. Lead by councillor John Neal, who represents the area in which the University is located, Oshawa city council passed a motion calling on city staff to enforce the anti-student housing bylaw they passed in 2008.

The mayor publicly dismissed this as political grandstanding.

But it is widely believed that Mr. Neal will be facing an opponent who hopes to rally students to vote him out of office. Amy England, the current president of the student association representing students at Durham College, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and Trent University in Oshawa, is rumoured to be planning to run for the city council seat held by Mr. Neal.

Ms. England has been involved in the fight against Oshawa's anti-student bylaws and could mount a challenge against Mr. Neal.

Politics being politics, nothing motivates voters quite like a wedge issue. Making students the wedge issue is smart politics; students don't vote and the people who dislike students do.

If students turn out to vote for candidates who care about their issues and them, they could stem the tide of anti-student bylaws, masquerading as "housing standards", being considered by short-sighted municipal politicians across the province.

Having covered this issue in depth, I have observed that many of the present city councillors are merely drifting with the wind.

The councillors who opposed the anti-student nature of the bylaw, and who were outraged by the raids conducted against students in their homes, have been unable to outmaneuver Mr. Neal and his crusading anti-student colleagues. As one of these councillors pointed out, too many of their colleagues are focused on re-election and know who the voters are. If students vote and change the direction the wind is blowing to their favour, it will be the beginning of the end of the growth of anti-student bylaws across the province.

Students face a stark choice: vote or be forced to move out of the neighbourhood.