The disconnect between young voters and local politics may not come as a surprise, especially after the past years of low voter turnout at all government levels.
Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) is home to almost 78,000 residents over the age of 20 who can vote. The student population of Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) Kamloops campus totals just over 12,000, with approximately 21 per cent of the school’s Canadian students originating from Kamloops.
A survey conducted on behalf of The Wren asked students about their concerns and level of engagement in the lead-up to local elections. Among the 18 responses, many students said they are disengaged, but not because they are disinterested in local issues. Subjects that students are concerned about include affordability, housing and sustainability.
Some TRU students said they don’t have the required information to get involved with the upcoming municipal election. They feel there is limited information given to students about how to vote and voting eligibility, with many important resources being shared late in the campaign period.
The Wren brought some of these concerns to local mayoral candidates to learn more.
Students feel excluded by voter eligibility criteria
The largest issue students have regarding the municipal election is difficulty finding information necessary to vote, such as determining voter eligibility.
When speaking with third-year TRU student Ciera McShane on Sept. 29, she explained missing information is a large part of her lack of participation.
McShane says she wants to know what’s going on. and she’s very involved with municipal issues back home in Maple Ridge, B.C. She often listens to the news as she gets ready for class in the morning and keeps up to date with current events.
But due to confusion over voting eligibility, she says she has been hesitant to engage in election coverage. Her permanent residence is in Maple Ridge, even though she lives in Kamloops for eight months of the year. She’s also one of many students who live in TRU student housing, meaning she lacks utility bills to prove her residence. This is the situation for many TRU students, particularly Canadian ones.
Voting criteria create difficulty for many students or for anyone who isn’t residing in Kamloops year-round. For example, voters must have lived in B.C. for at least six months before the day of registration, eliminating out-of-province students who go home over the summer. Voters also need to be Canadian citizens, eliminating any international students.
Additionally, B.C. students who are pursuing a post-secondary education outside of their hometown must decide where to vote, as you cannot vote twice.
There is a double standard in place here for students, as people who own property in two municipalities are allowed to vote as non-resident electors. However, students cannot vote in both their home and learning communities. Even though students don’t own property or pay property taxes, they are still contributing to the local economy.
These barriers can keep students from feeling part of the community, limiting their participation in local politics.
“It feels like TRU is a separate little city within Kamloops, and that they’re very much removed from each other,” said McShane. “I don’t notice any real engagement with the city and students… like at all.”
Mayoral candidates say more connection needed between TRU and city
When interviewed, mayoral candidates who responded to The Wren’s request mentioned the importance of student engagement and ensuring voters have access to quality information.
But when asked what they would do about the lack of engagement between electoral candidates and students, the general answer was that this is the status quo.
Candidates also pointed to the university’s student union, TRUSU, which has a responsibility to deliver election information to students. They added it is the job of individual voters to seek out information.
Some candidates, such as Dieter Dudy, were surprised when the issue of poor information was brought up. Dudy explained there is a memorandum of understanding between the city and TRU, set up by the current mayor, Ken Christian, to allow discussion about issues the community faces and facilitate stronger engagement between the two bodies.
“[To combat disconnection] we could have a kiosk of sorts [at TRU],” Dudy said. “Maybe that’s something we could look into … so that people here at TRU have a connection to the city.”
Candidate Sadie Hunter mentioned the need to further the connection between students and the city. As a TRU alumnus, she said she recognizes the struggle students face to involve themselves in the community and make their opinions heard.
“I haven’t seen a lot of intentional engagement between TRUSU, TRU, and city hall,” she said. “I would love to see more … Students are a pretty important part of our community.”
TRUSU efforts to engage student voters
Leif Douglass, campaign coordinator for TRUSU, said the union has been trying to provide accessible information through email lists and social media to engage students who may not have voted. TRUSU connected with candidates in early September to have them answer a survey on their platforms.
Douglass said these answers were posted to TRUSU’s website approximately a week and a half before a Coffee & Candidates event hosted by TRUSU on Oct. 5. This event was TRUSU’s main promotion to students of the voting information available on TRUSU’s website.
When asked about earlier promotion of the information to create more awareness, Douglass explained, “We kind of specifically don’t do that, to be honest … We try to ramp it up in the weeks leading up to the election, [because] that’s when news organizations … and people are talking about it.”
When it comes to voting, TRUSU arranged an on-campus polling station for Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They shared this information in an email on Oct. 5 and handed out flyers at the Coffee & Candidates event. There is no on-campus polling station on general election day, Oct. 15.
However, as McShane points out, students may need more notice, especially with the whirlwind of the fall academic semester overlapping with the election period.
“[Students] are busy,” says McShane. “They’re not going to go out specifically to meet candidates if they know nothing about them … let them know [what’s happening] ahead of time.”