By Maanvi Dhillon
On Oct. 22, Ontarians will be heading to the polls for the second time this year to cast their ballots in an election. Hamilton’s municipal election will decide the mayor and ward councillors for the next four years, and the McMaster Students Union has been working hard on a campaign aimed at increasing student voter turnout.
In particular, the MSU Education team will be rolling out another #MacVotes campaign to keep students informed about the upcoming election and to motivate them to cast a vote. An important initiative will be the Ward 1 candidates’ debate, which will be happening in the MUSC atrium on Oct. 16.
As Shemar Hackett, associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), explains, it is crucial that voters are informed when they cast their ballot.
“The candidate who wins this election will represent Ward 1 for the next four years, which is why it is imperative that students are critical and research all the candidates before going to the polls on Oct. 22,” said Hackett.
The Municipal Election is Monday, October 22 - in addition, there are 5 ADVANCE poll dates available for voters. Full Election details: https://t.co/tt4eeHHe9x. #HamOnt #HamiltonVotes18 pic.twitter.com/4rcLntjLa1
— City of Hamilton (@cityofhamilton) September 20, 2018
The rest of the #MacVotes campaign will involve extensive promotion, both online and in-person. An official website will highlight advanced polling locations, platforms summaries and identification needed to vote.
In addition, the MSU will advocate for issues that have been selected as priorities under the umbrellas of transportation and housing.
One transit priority entails eliminating area rating, a controversial system that allows wards to pay different tax rates for municipal services. This initiative allows suburban and rural communities to pay less than older Hamilton wards to compensate for their purported decreased access to certain services.
With respect to housing, the MSU will be pushing for Hamilton to toughen up housing regulation by moving forward with a bylaw that requires landlords to be formally licensed. This would help protect off-campus students who often encounter unsafe living conditions in their rental homes but are left vulnerable by the lack of proactive enforcement of safety standards and bylaws.
In the wake of a string of break-ins in Westdale, safety has also become a growing concern for off-campus students. Questions are being raised about the effectivity of police responses to these incidents and to student safety at large. This may also become a deciding issue for student voters.
Overall, students make up a large and influential portion of the electorate in Ward 1. According to a profile of the Ward, the fastest growing demographic are those between twenty and twenty-four. This means McMaster students can have a significant sway in the election results should they turn out in large numbers.
However, it remains unclear whether many students will actually vote. The most recent MSU presidential election had an unusually low turnout rate of 28 per cent. Despite this, Ward 1 has historically has had some of the highest turnout rates in the city.
Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education), understands the potential power of student voters.
“By voting in this municipal election, students are able to have a major impact on the decisions made in the City of Hamilton over the next four years,” Bertolo said. “Each individual vote adds up to better transit, safer housing, and more opportunities for students before and after graduation. It shows the city that we are a major stakeholder and that they must listen to us.”
The stakes are high for students in this municipal election, and the MSU will be pushing to spread that message. Whether that is enough to get students out to vote, however, is a question that can only be answered on Oct. 22.