Ever since the announcement of the federal election (set for May 2, so mark your calendars), there have been two reactions: either a flurry of excitement — including newspaper diving and furious Googling — for political buffs, or a barely suppressed sigh of apathetic annoyance. For Torontonians, the mayoral election is still fresh in their minds, and it seems like all too soon, they’ll have to make that arduous trek to the nearest government-approved public space to scribble in their choices with nubby pencils.
It comes as no surprise that most voters are older people. These are the citizens who are aware that individually, they can cause a ripple, and together, they make quite a splash in the political pond. Students, on the other hand, seem to miss out on such clever metaphors, complaining that politicians rarely touch on their needs and interests, and politics isn’t the easiest subject to follow when you’re squished on a train, or a bus, during the wee hours of rush-hour mornings.
“There’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” says Ian Holloway, dean of law at the University of Western Ontario. “I don’t know which came first, but it’s possible to assume parties can say, ‘Look, they don’t vote, so why have policies that try to attract them?’”
On the bright side, it seems that Canadian law students don’t ask these same questions.
“Law students are politically aware and engaged. One of the nice things about Western is that there is a real range of student opinion . . . and they discuss and talk with one another,” says Holloway, who mentions that the school boasts active members in Liberal, Conservative, Green, and NDP student campus groups.
Students floating in their own bubbles might wonder what the common denominator is between law students and politics. It’s easy to see why a political science major might gleefully throw themselves into a federal election, but why law students?
“[It has to do with the] sorts of things that attract them to law school — interest in the world, the government, human condition — and of course, law school makes you study about legal institutions, the constitution. They’re immersed in it,” says Holloway.
Judith McCormack, acting assistant dean of students at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, while not able to say for sure that all students participate at the polls, says it wouldn’t make sense if they didn’t.
“About 90 per cent of our students are involved in clubs and clinical projects, things that involve advocacy for particular policy positions,” she says. “They are extremely involved and very interested in the idea of creating social change. And obviously, one way to do that is in the election process.”
But that’s a special one-up that law and politics students have on all the rest. The problem is, or so says Holloway, the clumps of Canadian students who major in everything else miss out on the education, and so, despite it being obvious, sort of skip out on the significance of the vote.
“I don’t think students in Canada are taught about the essential ingredients about democracy, chief of those being citizens who are informed and engaged. You hear about those gimmicks like online voting or lowering the voting age, but these won’t make a difference if there isn’t a long-term plan,” says Holloway.