In case you didn’t know, the UVSS just held its annual student election, in which students selected seventeen other students to act on their behalf on campus, in the greater municipality, and even in provincial and federal lobbying rooms.
Not that I would blame you for not knowing. Only 14.99 per cent — 2 604 out of an eligible 17 361 — of students actually cared enough to have their say in the process. It’s a percentage that puts UVic below Egypt, Gabon, and Sierra Leone in terms of level of political engagement with its constituents. It’s also the lowest turnout that the UVSS has seen in years.
It’s no secret that there is a significant lack of engagement at UVic. There are many reasons why this is the case, and not all of them have solutions, but I think we can make a start with one of the main plagues of the UVSS election system: its emphasis on slates.
Slates are like political parties, where students get together and collectively determine a single platform on which they’re going to run. In 2016, there were three slates, as well as a smattering of independent candidates, that ran in the student election. This year, there were only two (both slates and independent candidates). In the future, there shouldn’t be any, and we should opt to scrap the slate system altogether.
In general, the slate system stifles unique ideas, prevents candidates from learning to cooperate with each other, and divides politicians on arbitrary and infantile party lines. It’s an unusual way of doing things, and the UVSS is in the minority among Canadian universities when it comes to running elections based on a slate system. Many other universities prohibit them, and for good reason.
For example, if you want to vote for individual candidates based solely on their platform, you’re out of luck. Slates make for monolithic campaign platforms, with every candidate on a slate promising more or less the same things—many of them unachievable—that are ultimately designed only to entice the student populace (like Tim Horton’s on campus, or a five-day fall reading weeks). Either that, or the promises are so vague as to be completely meaningless.
By contrast, if candidates were forced to run independently, it would encourage them to step up with their own diverse and unique ideas about how best to change UVic for the better. Politicians would be judged on the quality of ideas, not on the name of their slates (though they may still be judged on their own names—there’s a reason Pierre-Paul Angelblazer received more votes than any other candidate for director-at-large.)
As it stands, the slates serve the opposite function — their idealistic (read: implausible) goals only serve to frustrate students when the elected board can’t follow through, thereby lessening the chance that a student will actually care enough to vote by the time the next election rolls around.
Slates also forego any chance for student politicians to open themselves up to criticism and learn how to accommodate people with differing opinions, especially when one slate holds all the seats.
Without slates, there would admittedly be a lower chance of anything passing with unanimity — but that’s not a bad thing. Considering the stakes in the UVSS are considerably lower than perhaps any other political position these students may one day hold, it makes for the perfect opportunity to practice working with people who hold opposing views. There is no benefit to having a board that does not question itself — the VIPIRG controversy of last December is testament enough to that.
The extension of this is the problem of students separating themselves along invisible and arbitrary slate lines, creating binary responses for issues that require far more nuanced approaches. Take the Peter Singer issue, for instance: instead of both sides opening a meaningful debate on the thin lines between hate speech, free speech, and the censorship of both, candidates were forced to stake a claim on either side of a fence they themselves had created.
This bickering alienates students from participating in student politics. When all that prospective voters see are random Facebook posts from each side painting the other as incompetent and destructive, there is no incentive to join in.
But if students do want to get involved with politics — and they should — they shouldn’t have to do so within a system that promotes a uniformity of bland, futile ideas, and masturbatory grandstanding. Just because it’s been this way for a while doesn’t mean it needs to be forever — and it’s never too slate to change.