Lost in the tidal wave of news surrounding COVID-19 and Humber College’s response to the pandemic was the announcement of the IGNITE Board of Directors for 2020-21.
A week of voting led to nine candidates being elected, four from North, three from Lakeshore and two from the University of Guelph-Humber. There should be 10, but no one ran in Orangeville.
The nine students will represent the largest student body of any college in Ontario and will control a student-funded budget of somewhere around $11 million.
And that’s why it is so disappointing only 16.4 per cent of Humber students voted this year.
There were 5,443 ballots cast from a pool of 33,189 eligible voters.
So what happened?
Humber has dealt with bad voter turnout before. In the 2018-19 election, just more than 20 per cent of the students voted, and the year before that just smidgeon more than 28 per cent.
To put that in perspective, Sheridan College in Oakville and Brampton, an institution of a similar size to Humber, had 31 per cent of its students vote in the 2018-19 election.
Elections Ontario said 58 per cent of eligible voters voted in the 2018 provincial election, with the lowest turnout being just in excess of 48 per cent.
Federal elections have even more pull, with almost 66 per cent of voters on the voting list casting a ballot in 2019, Elections Canada said.
So why don’t students vote in the elections that may have the largest impact on their lives?
First, let’s determine if these elections are important. Services controlled by IGNITE include financial services like bursaries, health insurance for members, and amenities like the soup bar, sleep lounge and the LinX Cafe.
These are all services students take advantage of, and for some, are necessities.
And yet they consistently don’t vote for the leaders of the organization paying for these programs with their money.
Humber is not the only school with this problem. Fanshawe College In London had just more than 11 per cent vote in this year’s election, and last year George Brown in downtown Toronto saw less than seven per cent of eligible votes cast a ballot for its top job.
So, again, why is it that students aren’t voting?
A variety of reasons exist, including not trusting the student government to behave responsibly or deliver what they promise.
This distrust was on display in the Ryerson Student Union elections this year, which were held despite the fact the organization, had been disavowed by the university earlier in the year.
The election saw a measly 2.5 per cent of students cast ballots.
Another possible reason is a lack of knowledge of what IGNITE is responsible for, which may be a key reason for the poor turnout.
In the 24 interviews conducted with students by Et Cetera reporters last December, two students knew about the changes IGNITE successfully implemented last January to its governance model, and both described their knowledge as “vague.”
Only seven thought they used their $11 million budget effectively, and most didn’t know it was that big.
Even some candidates interviewed for the election this year didn’t know how the size of the budget they were looking to control.
Maybe IGNITE shares in the blame for students not understanding their organization. The closed nature of their board meetings doesn’t promote transparency. It doesn’t enhance or promote engagement. The curious are kept away.
But most of the responsibility must fall on the students.
The college experience of their dreams is within their reach, but voices cannot expect to be heard without voting. This is a problem that plagues all of Ontario, likely all of Canada. And it is one where the solution isn’t obvious.
Telling students to vote doesn’t appear to work, especially when that message is delivered with one week’s notice. The media has to do better, as well, but frankly it is hamstrung when people don’t care about politics.
Instead of suggesting a solution, we issue a plea to students: learn about your student union, educate yourselves on the board members and their positions, and participate.
Because one day you may look around and notice all those services you rely on are gone. And at that point, there will be no one to blame but yourself.