A 21-year old University of New Brunswick student recently won a seat on Fredericton’s next city council, according to The Chronicle Herald.
The student won in an area with high town-gown tensions. If the situation in Fredericton is similar to other university towns, this means student voter turnout was strong enough to win the seat.
In Hamilton, my hometown, the citizens in the ward where McMaster University is located would never vote for a student, no matter his platform, because anti-student sentiment is so strong.
Not that “permanent residents” would have to mobilize to defeat a student candidate. We students do well enough defeating ourselves that we do not need any outside help.
During the 2006 municipal election, the City of Hamilton set up an on-campus polling station in the hope of increasing student voter turnout. This polling station was a complete failure with only 10 votes cast. The population of the nearby residences is over 3,000. (Note: Not all resident students were 18 years of age.)
The situation was not much better off campus. At the polling location serving the most concentrated student area, there were less than 200 ballots cast. I speculate most of those votes were non-student residents. This poll had, by far, the lowest voter turnout in the entire city.
Surprise! Ever since that election, student concerns have been ignored at Hamilton’s city council.
This will not be the case in Fredericton because a student has a vote at the table. There is a lesson here for students’ unions. A major part of lobbying is proving you can put ballots in the ballot box.
I’m sure someone will argue that it is only one vote on council and it can be ignored. However, if students can mobilize a large voting block, they can be the king-maker in a mayoral race in many communities. City councillors with their eyes on the big chair always make sure to not anger large voting blocks and are more likely to address student concerns.
Politicians in Fredericton will have to take note of student concerns and address them because, at the least, it is in their self interest.
Well done, Fredericton students.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.