A right to canvass, a right to engage

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Our democracy is predicated upon the principle that we, as citizens, cast a ballot for our preferred candidate in an election. To do this, we must have knowledge of the various parties and candidates who are running. The most effective way of finding out about candidates is by talking to their representatives at the door or over the phone. This also happens to be the best way for candidates to get their message to individuals and gain feedback from the public.

That’s why we, the authors of this piece, were disappointed by the number of hurdles we had to overcome to canvass UVic residences this past federal byelection. We are volunteers for the Liberal Party of Canada and Green Party of Canada, respectively. We were asked to leave or were denied access to buildings on several occasions, despite the fact that we were within our legal rights to be there.

The Canada Elections Act, under Section 81, gives candidates and their representatives the right to canvass door-to-door in an “apartment building, condominium, or other gated community” and grants permission to canvass a multiple residence building “in a common area.” University residences must thus confer the necessary rights onto political parties who wish to canvass them during an election period. Our removal from these buildings seemed to contradict Canada’s Elections Act, and we have been unable to find any online reference to a UVic policy that would clarify this grey area.

Our concerns with UVic’s policy go beyond a desire to inform students about our individual candidates — the greater goal here is encouraging youth to vote. We know that young voter turnout is exceptionally low, and there is a perception that youth are disinterested in politics. The most direct way that we can reverse this trend is through education. If we want youth to vote, then we must understand that they require knowledge of politics and government to do so. While our education system must bear some responsibility, it is also up to individual candidates to engage students. Indeed, the most expedient way to educate youth about politics is through direct engagement. It should be and is the responsibility of the parties to reach out to students, give them information and listen to their ideas and concerns.

That’s why we were so disheartened that students living in residence were denied their right to speak directly with candidate representatives.

If UVic is serious about getting youth interested in politics and encouraging them to vote, then its policy should reflect this. Residence Services should not try to obstruct dialogue between candidates and students — rather, it should encourage it. That’s why we are calling on Residence Services and the University of Victoria to follow in the steps of other universities, like the University of Toronto, and adopt a clear and transparent policy on canvassing in line with the Elections Act.

We, as students, should be inspired by politics. We should have dreams for our society, and we should be able to engage with political parties during elections. It’s time that UVic take the right step and encourage political discourse on campus and in residence.

Michael McDonald is the president of UVic Young Liberals of Canada, and Evan Pivnick is the president of the UVic Greens.

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  • mysoupishotnot

    While the Canada Elections Act grants canvassers access to an “apartment building, condominium, or other gated community”, Residence buildings at UVic do not fit within those categories.

    Section 2.7 of the UVic Residence Contract states
    “As is expressly stated in the Residential Tenancy Act of British Columbia, the Residential Tenancy Act of British Columbia does not apply to this Contract and to your occupation of your Accommodation.”

    Residence buildings are not in the same category as apartments or condominiums. They are more like hotels. Nothing is the property of the resident; they only use the building and services. That’s why Campus Security can enter any room without notice. In any other commercial housing agreements the resident is entitled to at least 24 hours’ notice. Not in UVic residence buildings. They are not covered under the Residential Tenancy Act and thus do not fall under what the Canada Elections Act would consider an apartment building, condominium or shared accommodation. Residence Services has no legal obligation to let canvassers inside.

    Should they be more open to canvassers? Having been involved electoral campaigns on University Campuses myself, I really don’t see the rewards. Distributing partisan flyers within buildings will do next to nothing. Students get information from the internet, from TV and from print. These sources give much more depth than 500 word pamphlets. Even canvassing would get a very lackluster response; students respond their friends, not campaign workers disturbing them while they lounge in their pajamas.

    I think the best solutions would come from contacting those most involved with the students. The CL’s and SCL’s I know would jump on the opportunity to help get students out to vote. They would facilitate events, post on Facebook, Tweet, put up posters and help to engage students in a way that would inform them. They’d even make it fun.

    Barging in (even with great intentions) and waving an Elections Act doesn’t give students good impressions of politics. Reaching out to start a dialogue will.