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Forsyth: “Voting Is Essential Homework”

October 3, 2011

The first weeks of a new semester can be hectic times, so it might be easy for students to lose track of a critical event that’s occurring this Fall: the 2011 provincial election.

While it may be tempting to disregard the issues facing our province, it is an important time to consider how the many decisions made by our provincial government directly impact a student’s life. The province funds transportation systems that students use to get to campus, regulates the rent on their apartments, determines the minimum wage for their part-time jobs, and even sets operating rules for their favourite pubs or restaurants.

Unfortunately, many students don’t seem to make that connection, and decide not to participate in our democratic process. In a typical election, over half of all people aged 18-29 do not cast a ballot. An even smaller number listen to debates, attend candidate forums, or volunteer with political parties.

As the President of Red River College, I meet students every day who are striving to create a better life for themselves and their families. They speak passionately about their futures, and most of them hope to find employment in Manitoba after graduation. However, when an election takes place, these same students seem content to let others make decisions on their behalf.

If students want their voices heard on issues that matter to them — like jobs, the environment and post-secondary education — then they need to step forward and exercise their right to vote.

On the issue of post-secondary education, the provincial government plays a key role. It regulates tuition fees, provides funding for colleges and universities to deliver programs and services, and supports the development of new labs and training facilities on our campuses. Investment in the post-secondary system is critical to the future of Manitoba; graduates fuel the economy and lead to the creation of new businesses and job opportunities.

Ensuring all students have access to post-secondary education is a critical issue for our province. However, despite growth over the past decade, participation rates in college education in Manitoba remain significantly lower than the Canadian average.

Closing that gap will require building additional capacity; engaging more Aboriginal students, new Canadians and those without a family history of college or university attendance; and addressing the financial and housing challenges faced by many students. So what will our next provincial government do to open up more training spaces and make it easier for all students to pursue their dreams?

While many students care deeply about these questions, some don’t feel well informed enough to play an active role in the election. To help overcome this barrier, two Red River College instructors have created an independent election website at ManitobaElection.ca. This non-partisan resource can help voters educate themselves about candidates, issues and voting locations.

Elections Manitoba has also made it easier for students to participate in this year’s vote by setting up polling stations on campus at most colleges and universities.

By not voting, students are denying themselves the opportunity to play a more important role in shaping the future of our province. Taking part in this week’s provincial election should be considered essential homework on all Manitoba campuses.

— Stephanie Forsyth, President, Red River College