Students matter

November 23, 2017
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

By: Joey Coleman

Hamilton city council isn’t anti-student, it’s pro-vote. Since students don’t vote, city council doesn’t care about your issues, and the result is they make decisions against your interests.

In the 2006 municipal election, only 10 students voted at the on-campus polling. The city did not repeat the experiment of on-campus voting in 2010 or 2014, citing the high cost for so few votes.

Considering the damage this low turnout did to student power at city hall, this was probably a good thing.

Since 2006, for the past decade, whenever the HSR lacked drivers, buses were pulled from the 51-University. Five seniors on a grocery shuttle charter take priority over hundreds of McMaster students left waiting on the university line.

Why? Because that grocery charter had five more voters than the university line.

Writing for this newspaper from 2006 to 2009, I regularly opined on anti-student sentiment in the community. I was especially critical of over-policing and targeting of the student community by mayor Fred Eisenberger and councillor Brian McHattie.

I thought as an undergraduate that council was anti-student and it wasn’t until a 2009 discussion on Parliament Hill with a McMaster professor that I realized they were not anti-student, they were pro-vote. The very small anti-student minority in Ainslie Wood and Westdale vote, and they put more ballots in the box than students.

Traditionally, McMaster Students Union presidents have shown up at city hall to declare their position as the “Chief Executive Officer of a multi-million dollar corporation and major employer in our community”, bought tickets to civic events and participate in photo ops.

In the 2006 municipal election, only 10 students voted at the on-campus polling. The city did not repeat the experiment of on-campus voting in 2010 or 2014, citing the high cost for so few votes.

This spring, that changed. This year’s MSU president is regularly at city hall challenging the status quo, representing students and acting on students’ material interests.

Wisely, he empowers the vice president (Education) and associate vice president (Municipal Affairs) to challenge city hall’s targeted bylaw enforcement of students, lack of consideration of student housing issues at the rental housing committee, and starting to plan to mobilize student voters.

The combination of Silhouette coverage and MSU action is already seeing results. The HSR stopped removing the 51-University bus from service as city hall legitimately fears this year’s MSU will take actions and not merely use words to protect student interests.

On Oct. 26, the Silhouette published an editorial suggesting that it is time for students to reconsider the UPass in light of the city failing to live up to its obligations.

The day prior, Oct. 25, the MSU president, Chukky Ibe, stood in front of the Ontario Municipal Board to testify against a city attempt to split Ainslie Wood into two wards and remove the ability of students to effectively influence Council races.

Ibe told the board that students are “often scapegoated for political gain”. He provided an excellent statement on behalf of MSU members, one that I expect will be cited in the pending ruling if the OMB rules against the split.

The MSU standing up to city council in a quasi-judicial hearing is unprecedented — it made the MSU a legitimate force at city hall.

Students are a significant source of revenue for the HSR, and the only new revenue this year. All HSR fare categories, except post-secondary students, were frozen this year. The HSR cannot afford to lose your money.

Both the Silhouette and the MSU have started planning for the October 2018 municipal election. city hall is hedging their earlier bet that students don’t vote.

It is no coincidence that the HSR reversed its decade-old practice of always cutting buses to McMaster first when buses weren’t available — effective student journalism, MSU representation, and the possibility of students voting next year combined to create his reversal.

The city doesn’t care if thousands of students are not getting bus service, but it does care if those students become voters.

The question now is: are you going to vote next year, or will you leave the next decade of McMaster students standing at the curb waiting for buses that won’t come?

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