A right to canvass, a right to engage

Opinions

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.