It’s no secret: students will change this election

Letter to the editor

LettersToTheEditorGraphic by Evan Tremblay.

Young people and students can drastically change the outcome of this federal election. The current government won a majority in the 14 closest ridings by only 6,201 votes. Just imagine what could happen if more young people voted and raised the issues that we care about.

As members of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), students at the University of Manitoba and across the province are participating in the national “It’s No Secret” campaign. The campaign seeks to engage students in the election and ensure that we are voting while also raising issues that are critical for students across Canada.

We must demand that our politicians and political parties meaningfully address the issues facing young people today, including the future of the economy, the environment, and the society that we will inherit. A critical way to make this demand is with our ballot. Students can make a difference this election. It’s up to us to ensure that student issues are on the table.

There are many issues facing students on a day-to-day basis that must be included in the national conversation about our collective future. It’s no secret that student debt has climbed to over $17 billion in Canada. We’ve seen little leadership on this issue from our politicians.

Instead, the federal government secretly increased the student debt ceiling from $19 billion to $24 billion this spring without talking about the root causes of skyrocketing student debt. We are told that the main issue in this election is the economy, yet we’ve seen little conversation about the debt crisis that is bankrupting an entire generation.

While the provincial government has direct power over post-secondary education, the federal government can play a leadership role in ensuring education for all. Unfortunately, federal funding for social programs like post-secondary education has been steadily slashed since the 1980s. While government grants used to cover up to 80 per cent of university budgets 30 years ago, they now cover roughly only 50 per cent.

It’s no secret tuition fees are making up the difference. Fees have tripled since the 1990s, outpacing the rates of inflation and other costs such as housing or food. At the same time, university administrations, including the University of Manitoba, are investing in capital projects and cutting the fundamentals: courses, faculties, programs and services.

International students were burdened with covering these budget cuts when their tuition fee differentials were hiked by up to 18 per cent. At both the government and institutional level, there is a lack of leadership to create post-secondary institutions that are focused on providing quality and accessible education for the public good. While fighting budget cuts at the university level, we must also demand that the federal government adequately fund post-secondary education across the country.

Students face another hurdle in paying for their housing. It’s no secret Canada is one of the only developed nations without a national housing strategy. Many students depend on affordable housing throughout their education and we need the federal government to ensure that adequate housing exists for everyone.

Students across the country, particularly women-identified students, should be able to attend post-secondary where a consent culture is fostered. The federal government can provide leadership to ensure all students feel safe on campus.

Throughout and after students’ education, getting a good job is becoming harder and harder. It’s no secret that youth unemployment and under-employment is outpacing general unemployment rates. Many students are forced to take unpaid internships, often only accessible to those who are able to work without earning a wage. The federal government must take strong leadership to address youth employment in Canada.

Young people are watching as our current leaders destroy our land and environment. The divestment campaign active on campus through the Divest Manitoba student group, which CFS-Manitoba allocated $2,000 to help launch, seeks to end investment in fossil fuels at the university level.

The CFS has been helping launch and coordinate this campaign across the country. The federal government must stop subsidizing fossil fuels and the tar sands, and instead invest in future generations through clean and renewable energy. Students today will inherit the environment, but we need to see action now to address the climate crisis that puts our entire collective future into a dangerous position.

The list of reasons for young people to vote in this election goes on and on. Choose an issue that matters most to you, investigate, read and understand what each party is proposing to address the issue. Engage with your local politicians, online or at local candidates’ forums. Ask them questions and demand they take a stand.

As part of a national student organization, we know that political parties have been listening to our campaign. The Green Party announced a plan to eliminate tuition fees by 2020. The NDP announced a plan to eliminate interest on federal student loans and give $250 million to the student grants program. The Liberals have talked about investing in a youth jobs and employment plan.

The CFS will continue to represent the interests of University of Manitoba students at a national, provincial, and local scale in this election and elections to come. When we stand in solidarity, students can change the national conversation.

Last election only 39 per cent of people age 18-24 voted. On Oct. 19, let’s change that. When students are active and engaged, we can see change on the issues that affect us on a daily basis. Be part of the student movement that will continue to fight for more equity and justice on our campuses and in our society on election day and beyond.

Michael Barkman
Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba