Are municipal elections a student issue?

The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario joins One Toronto campaign to provide ‘alternate view’ of upcoming Toronto mayoral election


For months, Toronto has been rapt in the rhetoric of its upcoming municipal election and the fervor’s only escalating as the October 25th D-Day draws nearer. The most recent poll shows Rob Ford, the outspoken Etobicoke councillor who’s turned the phrase “gravy train” into everyday vernacular, has a commanding 24-point lead over next-in-line George Smitherman. And that lead has many Torontonians worried. Ford has come out swinging against wasteful spending at City Hall, promising to slash the numbers at City Council from 44 to 22, abolish the city’s fair wage policy, end the war on cars and a plethora other pledges that have left some residents panicked and running for the hills (quite literally). Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick bizarrely equated voting for Rob Ford with some sort of post-drunken-one-night-stand venereal disease, while others have hopped on an “Anyone but Ford” bandwagon, rallying to stop the privatization-pledging maniac before he ruins Toronto’s national and international reputation.

Then, Wednesday, a new campaign was launched with the help of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students. The One Toronto campaign, as it calls itself, alleges it will not be telling voters how to cast their ballots, though the message is clear even to the most credulous Toronto voters; keep the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) public, focus on arts and social infrastructure, invest in education, make Toronto more diverse—which all, loosely translated, means don’t vote for Rob Ford. If that wasn’t obvious enough, this line from One Toronto’s website makes it crystal clear:

Right now the debate is very negative, focused on what is wrong inside City Hall, and how to slash away the more and more aspects of city government. Shouldn’t we be engaged in a debate on how to ensure that City Hall plays the most positive role possible in our lives?

CFS Ontario chair Sandy Hudson was on hand for the One Toronto launch Wednesday morning. Along with former United Way chair Dr. Joseph Wong, Luminato CEO Janice Price and journalist Michele Landsberg, Hudson took to the mic for the inaugural presentation. Hudson’s address focused on voter disengagement among city youth, an old but unyielding problem at all levels of politics.

Estimations of voter turnout show that just 43.8 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted in the 2006 general election, up from 37 per cent in 2004. Though the numbers improved in 2006, youth turnout at the polls was still 19 percentage points below the national average. With youth apathy also a major factor at the provincial and municipal levels, strategists have created campaigns such as and Student Connect to get young people interested in what’s going on in government. There have been other, more eccentric efforts made by our neighbors down south, including Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ 2004 “voting is cool” campaign, which curiously equated apathy with preemptive mortality (“Vote or Die!”) and Rock the Vote’s efforts to get young Americans to the polls during the 2008 presidential elections.

The logic behind these movements is clear; politicians won’t take youth issues seriously if they don’t show up to the polls. Why waste time lobbying to a demographic that is unlikely to go out and vote?

The problem is: One Toronto isn’t a campaign to get young people’s voices heard. It’s a pluralistic movement pushing a specific yet holistic vision for the city. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Hudson justifies the allegiance saying, “Students are paying lots and lots of money to go to school, so they need services that are going to be saving them money, but also helping them to get around.”

Certainly services such as the discounted TTC Metropass for post-secondary students secured this year are to the benefit of students; but just because an issue like transportation sometimes affects students doesn’t mean union fees should rightfully be allocated to a multidimensional campaign like One Toronto. Indeed, I could argue that the worn out sole of my left shoe is a student issue if it makes me late for class, but I’d be hesitant to go spend someone else’s money on an entire clothing initiative.

Municipal issues are a tough sell for student union dollars. Tuition fees are a provincial issue. Professional licenses, to practice medicine or law for example, are federally regulated. City laws, on the other hand, dictate whether you pay five cents for a plastic bag at a grocery store—it takes a little bit of extrapolation to connect that to the larger student movement.

The added fact that One Toronto so obviously supports certain candidates over others (even if it won’t name names) makes the CFS backing that much more incredulous. Dare I say–an example of wasteful spending?

Photo by mars_discovery_district


Are municipal elections a student issue?

  1. Robyn, thanks for another good article. And this is unfortunately how CFS loyalists behave everywhere. I remember back in 2008 our local CFS-aligned student politicians spent a lot of time campaigning for Victoria majoral candidate Dean Fortin (who is now trying to bankrupt the city building a new bridge we don’t need.) They also put out a lot of pointless surveys, paid for with student fees, on whether the candidates supported certain initiatives (meaningless because every candidate said yes to everything.)

  2. The CFS is being about as “non-partisan” as it ever is here. Does the provincial or national branch have any business in civic politics? Hell no. Do the individual student unions? Sometimes. There’s been a lot of debate (here, and in the real world) about U-Passes. As a front-line student union guy, as long as students keep knocking on my door and asking about it, it’s the student union’s problem. Public transportation is a civic (or regional) issue. So is the regulation of secondary suites. A college or university can be a major part of the social & economic life of a city and the university community should therefore be involved wherever appropriate.
    But should the UVic student society care about building a bridge halfway across town? Probably not. The key is “wherever appropriate”.
    Your worn-out shoe only effects you. If your bus to campus breaks down because TTC can’t afford to maintain it, that effects everyone going to class that day. This particular campaign is clearly too broad, and clearly partisan, both hallmarks of the CFS. And once again, all of the sane student unions are going to suffer being painted with the same brush.

  3. Pingback: MACLEANS: Are municipal elections a student issue?

  4. In’s unrelenting attempt to undermine absolutely everything that the CFS does, you should be commended for going the extra mile on this one to find an angle to wage a pathetic critique.

    Municipal elections aren’t a student issue? You are fools.

    – affordable public transit
    – parking fees/fines
    – tenancy zoning laws
    – childcare facilities
    – environmental initiatives
    – community/cultural/arts funding
    … the list goes on.

    Your “article” isn’t a critique of the CFS advocacy for student issues, it is a polemic against students and youth taking an interest in municipal issues. While you fools rail against low voter turnouts, you campaign against student awareness and interest in important issues that affect them. YOU are contributing to a culture voter apathy. YOU are part of the problem.
    You should be ashamed.

    The CFS, on the other hand, is working with many organisations to tray to inject real-world issues into an election that is all about personality (and negative ones at that). Sounds like a good thing for students to be involved in!

  5. FYI, the website is Apathy is Boring, not Borning.

  6. In the CFS’ unrelenting attempt to undermine critical thinking in post-secondary education, you should be commended for going the extra mile on this one find a way to restate all of my points in a less constructive way & make us all look like raging idiots.

    Your “rebuttal” isn’t a critique of the Maclean’s agenda to discredit the CFS, it is proof that such an agenda is pointless. While you encourage people to engage in municipal issues, you discredit, by example, the ability of students to productively engage in debate on important issues. YOU are the sort of person who you suggest shouldn’t be in this discussion because you choose to debate Macleans’ personal editorial agenda and not issues. YOU are part of the problem.
    You should be embarrased.

    Robyn is wrong that students should butt out of municipal issues, but she’s right that the CFS shouldn’t be pretending not to endorse a candidate when they, in effect, are doing so. They especially shouldn’t then be pretending to hold the moral high ground because they’re injecting issues in to a debate about personality.

  7. Maybe those that suggest that municipal elections aren’t a student issue have never taken the TTC to get to class, maybe they have never had to rely on a public daycare while in class, maybe they have never had to live in community housing to juggle the cost of education, maybe you haven’t ever had to park a car on a street while in class.
    The reality is that students are effected by toronto city hall on a daily basis. If you don’t believe it, open you eyes and look around you.

    In the same way that environmental, labour, and political parties are working to get the word out about these elections and refocus them to discuss real issues so too should the more than 150,000 students.

  8. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any method you’ll be able to take away me from that service? Thanks!