Strengthening the student vote at Mount Royal
Time to #GetOutTheVote at Mount Royal
Calgary’s municipal election is Oct. 16, but the executive team of the Student’s Association at Mount Royal University (SAMRU) has already been preparing for months.
Shifrah Gadamsetti, president of SAMRU, along with Aria Burrell, vice-president, external have taken the lead on getting out the vote at MRU. They have helped organize several events such as the upcoming SAMRU Mayoral Forum and the Ward Candidates’ Meet and Greet.
Gadamsetti and Burrell say these events contribute to one of their focus areas this year ― to create opportunities for students to engage with municipal issues and politics. “We might be students, but we all exist in this city and our vote not only affects the immediate future of our lived experience, but also sets the direction for long-standing policy within our communities,” says Burrell. Adds Gadamsetti, “Voting asks us to engage with our environments in an intentional way. It helps start conversations we might not have considered in the past. Our hope is to bridge the education and experience students gain in the classroom and find a way to apply that through the electoral process by utilizing critical thinking.”
On Sept. 19. Mount Royal hosted the first official mayoral forum of the campaign so far, with nine of the confirmed candidates attending. Discussions centred around building a new arena for the Calgary Flames, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, economic opportunities for the city, student housing, electoral engagement, taxes, Indigenous affairs, green spaces and tourism. In 2007, SAMRU put together the city’s only all-candidates mayoral debate during that election, with over 400 people in attendance to discuss issues such as affordable housing, the west leg of the LRT and curbside recycling.
Transit is of particular concern to MRU students, as they are currently the only post-secondary institution in Calgary without direct access to rapid transit via the CTrain or a BRT route. Gadamsetti and Burrell say that MRU has a higher than average student population that works part-time and commutes heavily between their classes and work. For example, if a student lives in southeast Calgary, but has to commute to Mount Royal for a day of classes, then commute again to their part-time employment opportunity, they aren’t afforded the time or resources to make their way to a polling station. This is why SAMRU had advocated for election day multi-ward polling stations on campus. Students who are unable to vote on Election Day are able to visit the advance multi-ward polling stations available at Wyckham House from Oct. 4 to 6.
Lori Williams, professor and student advisor in the Department of Economics, Justice and Policy Studies at MRU, says that Calgary’s 2017 municipal election is shaping up to be an interesting race. “It isn’t like some races I’ve seen where there are 19 candidates and nobody gets to speak much and nobody has a chance of unseating the incumbent.” Williams says that candidate Bill Smith is a strong challenger to Mayor Nenshi. While she feels Nenshi still has the edge as the incumbent and respected mayor internationally, there may be some who are ready for a change.
“He’s been in office now for seven years and you enter politics with a certain amount of goodwill or political capital and you draw that down over time, and it eventually runs out. It will be interesting to see if someone like Bill Smith with new energy and vision could actually knock him off. Nenshi is an extraordinarily skilled politician with broad appeal, but some people don't like him and want him out of office.”
While it may be an interesting race, it certainly isn’t diverse, as there are currently no female mayoral candidates. Gadamsetti and Burrell say that doesn’t surprise them and there are many contributing reasons, which may include a lack of mentorship and representation within Calgary’s current City Council combined with broader politics. Gadamsetti and Burrell also point to violence against women and gender-variant people, especially in contentious politics, which is likely another reason women reconsider running for leadership.
The best way for students to create change going forward is to become engaged and informed, so they can advocate for issues that affect them. “This election, like all elections, is about you and those around you,” says Burrell. “We are all affected by who is elected, the values they hold and the policies they intend to pass regarding matters that affect us. Voting is far from the only way to influence the world around us, but it’s an easy and important way that has far-reaching effects.”
October 4 – 6, 2017 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Wyckham House, Council Chambers
Elections Calgary will be placing multi-ward advance polling booths on campus for students, staff and community members who are unable to vote on Election Day.
SAMRU will be working to get out the vote at these events and will have a presence in the hallways leading up to Advance Polling. This year, the City of Calgary has a reminder service available for students to sign themselves up.
Sept. 15, 2017 ― Felicia Zuniga