By Miné Salkin
Despite the efforts of UBC’s student activist and political issues groups to raise awareness of the upcoming elections, the resounding message is still “apathy,” said key student activists.
Co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and a well-known student activist, Nathan Crompton says that a lot of students at UBC are apathetic towards politics in general due to heavy workloads and the increasing stress of student debt.
Crompton cites Conservative government policies as part of the culprit for the fact that an average of six out of 10 students in British Columbia are either engaged in part time of full time work, and the typical student graduates with $25,000 worth of debt.
“A certain percentage of the population of the student body who have a certain level of privilege are happy with the way things are in the world, more or less, are satisfied with existing conditions,” he said, accounting for some of the apathy with respect to electoral issues.
NDP Vancouver Centre candidate Michael Byers capitalized on these sentiments in a debate in front of UBC students, criticizing the Conservatives’ post-secondary education fund policies. “This is a system for the rich, for the privileged, for the people who are born with silver spoons in their mouth,” he told a group of nearly 100 students who were amassed at the UBC Student Union Building (SUB) on Sept. 25, as many of them showed their support.
Byers asked how many students presently were working while going to school, and nearly half of the group raised their hands. Byers’ speech on post-secondary funding sparked the approval of all of these students, who were also asked whether or not they depended heavily on student loans and wished they could spend less time working and more time focusing on their academic studies.
Despite the enthusiasm for Byers’ support and the number of electoral events on campus, VP of Student Services Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes says that most politicians in both the municipal and federal elections are almost indistinguishable from one another for many students. “As for the federal election, I am still trying to get used to the candidates,” he says.
Liberal party leader Stéphane Dion was invited by the BC Young Liberals, and the open debate in the SUB was hosted by students of the AMS External, showing the need for students to access politicians directly in order for their questions to be answered.
Interdisciplinary PhD student and member of the SDS, Edward Lee Durgan says that the electoral events on campus were all initiated, coordinated and promoted by students, rather than the political parties directly. “I don’t think the elections are geared towards students,” he said.
When discussing the truth that so many students decide remain apathetic to politics, Durgan said that the candidates and party leaders depend on this kind of willful disengagement. “I think the major political parties count on that, the disenfranchisement or marginalization of that part of the population, and that’s just that many fewer people that they have to influence somehow,” he said.