March 15 2019 —
Another Students’ Union election is now in the books, with results announced last Thursday at The Den.
Perhaps the most surprising outcome from this election was its low voter turnout. Just over 21 per cent of undergraduate students at the University of Calgary cast a ballot this year, a drop of nearly four percentage points from last year. It’s also the lowest voter turnout in an SU General Election since 2010, when only 16.1 per cent of undergraduate students voted.
Why such a low turnout? An easy explanation is that this year’s election candidates brought fewer big issues to the forefront than in recent years. Previous election hot-button issues, like the MacHall ownership dispute, provincial tuition legislation and market modifiers, have all been addressed over the past few years.
In contrast, the first goals listed on each of the four presidential candidates’ platforms this year were lowering food prices, making textbooks more affordable, engaging better with students and performing small-scale redevelopment to MacHall. While these are, for the most part, reasonable platform points, nothing screams ‘must-vote issue.’
We’re the first to admit that it can be hard for students to care about SU elections, especially when so many important parts of what the SU does — like sitting on committees and working on policy — are inaccessible to students not already familiar with the inner workings of both the SU and the U of C. That’s why having one or two major issues each election is valuable for engaging students who aren’t already in the loop.
And it’s not as if there aren’t major, easily understandable issues that could serve as a rallying point for students. How about talking about the future of Bermuda Shorts Day, a campus tradition hosted by the SU which has been threatened by growing financial concerns and administration pushback? Or maybe the mental health crisis on campus, the importance of which is undeniable after a number of recent student suicides? How about the sad state of Craigie Hall, a building that’s been deteriorating for well over a decade?
That’s not even to mention the wider existential threat that students’ unions across the province face as a result of a proposed United Conservative Party policy that would make SU fees voluntary.
The point is that although some big-ticket issues have been resolved over the past few years, there are still many issues that are vital to all students and are worth rallying around. Making one of these topics a campaign issue could be the key to ensuring that this year’s low turnout was an aberration, not the start of a trend.
The SU is a representative democracy, but its status as such becomes less effective as voter turnout dwindles. Being able to vote for our SU is a right, but we should treat it as a privilege that we’re unwilling to lose.
— Jason Herring, Gauntlet editorial board