The impact of Douglas College and youth in provincial politics
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
Red, orange, green, and blue signs are starting to find their places on front lawns. Campaign busses are being spotted throughout the Lower Mainland. Headlines are increasingly featuring names like Clark and Horgan. Everyone (who votes) in BC is about to make an important decision, one which they will need to make by May 9.
The results of this election will determine which direction the provincial government will take on a variety of issues, from child care to pipelines. However, what makes this election unique is that the issues at stake are seemingly ones that will greatly affect students and young adults. How will students fund their education? Will disadvantaged adults be able to easily access a basic education? What will be the minimum wage that a job is allowed to pay to its entry-level workers? Where are the job opportunities going to be? Will it be anything more than a pipe dream for young people to be able to own their homes? The questions are endless.
Many of the issues concerning students hit close to home. Douglas students may remember DSU volunteers and staff coming to their classes back in November 2016, asking for signed postcards in exchange for free water bottles. It was a movement that the DSU lovingly called its Week of Action. In the second two weeks of November, the DSU managed to collect over 4,000 signatures in support of Squash the Squeeze, a campaign that advocates for increasing the public funding of post-secondary institutions, reducing tuition fees, freezing the interest on student loans, and reinstating provincial grants for students—as BC students can currently only receive grants from the federal government.
While the DSU had a big part of pushing this campaign forward, so did other student unions across the province. As of today, there have been 12,581 people who have petitioned in support of Squash the Squeeze.
The DSU didn’t stop their action at signatures. Following their Weeks of Action, the DSU met with MLAs Kathy Corrigan of Burnaby-Deer Lake and Judy Darcy of New Westminster to voice their concerns over how the provincial government has been dealing with post-secondary education, in a presentation that they titled “Pathways to Prosperity.”
Another notable campaign for students has been Don’t Close the Doors. Don’t Close the Doors developed after the BC Liberal government cut funding to adult basic education—which includes essential courses for those with low literacy or upgrading for high school courses—in 2014. Previously, these courses would be free and accessible, but, since the cuts, they are now subject to tuition fees.
The student campaigns haven’t slowed their momentum since late 2016. They have taken to amplifying awareness to the public. For example, students going to Langara may find during their commutes that Open the Doors—a campaign similar to Squash the Squeeze—has taken up some advertising spaces. Student associations across the province have realized that now is the time to pressure prospective governments to adopt policies for students.
The surge of action among students, alongside the results of the 2015 federal election, is notable enough to get the attention of politicians. While only 47.9 per cent of people aged 18–24, or about 112,918 people, voted in the last provincial election—only half of those who had registered to vote, according to Elections BC—2015 saw a surge of young voters. According to Elections Canada, the 2015 federal election saw an 18.3 per cent increase of voters in the 18–24 age group. While only 38.8 per cent of people in this demographic voted in 2011, 57.1 per cent of them voted in 2015. Add an increase in campaigns and protests—such as the demonstrations against pipelines and high housing prices—and it would seem like BC’s political parties would be foolish not to put more thought into the demands of its younger demographics.
Aside from education campaigns, students and young adults share some overarching issues with the general public.
Minimum wage has been gradually increased over the years, moving from $8.75 in 2011 to its present $10.85 per hour. Still, a full-time worker living on such a wage is difficult. A full-time monthly salary on the minimum wage is approximately $2,600 per month, before deductions. One potential renter in Vancouver would be hard-pressed to find anything private under $1,200. Add the cost of energy, internet, food, and transportation, and those living off of minimum wage have barely any income left to enjoy small pleasures, like a night at the movies or a restaurant.
“Even if they work full time, they live below the poverty line,” said Irene Lanzinger, president of the BC Federation of Labour, to CBC. “[Their annual income is] $4,000 below the poverty line.”
The BC Federation of Labour delivered a petition for a $15 minimum wage with 56,000 signatures to BC Legislature on March 15. Their cause was quickly adopted by BC NDP leader John Horgan. It is assumed that the BC NDP will be adopting the $15 minimum wage as a major part of its election platform.
A minimum wage of $15 is still far from what is considered a living wage, yet it could be the first step in bridging the gap.
However, is increasing minimum wage to $15 so quickly really a wise decision? Sure, it will help out those working service and hospitality jobs, yet the wage increase could be at the cost of employment opportunities. David Green, a UBC economist, predicts that the wage increase could cost 7.6 per cent of available jobs that pay minimum wage, according to a study titled The Case for Increasing Minimum Wage.
Housing prices are another hot ticket item in the upcoming election according to the polling done by both the BC Liberal party and the BC NDP. Housing ranked as British Columbian’s top interest in the election, and the current housing market is a daunting one for young adults who wish to own their own homes one day.
While housing remains affordable outside of BC’s metro areas, the price of housing has skyrocketed within Metro Vancouver in recent years. Properties in Vancouver cost far into the millions, and the cost of housing in nearby municipalities seems to only be following suit.
It is speculated that foreign ownership has contributed to the inflation of housing in Vancouver. Despite a 15 per cent tax introduced to foreign buyers in 2016, there have been little improvements to the housing market. It seems that there are houses in Vancouver that are sitting empty and unsold. The tax has discouraged foreign ownership of these homes, but their prices still sit too high for the average person or family to afford.
“We are going to work with the city of Vancouver and other cities on issues in respect with vacancy and speculation and supply,” said BC premier Christy Clark, to CBC. “All of those issues are on the table. Nothing is off the table for discussion.”
So what do BC’s politicians have to offer young adults across the province? The provincial parties started rolling out their platforms last week, but have yet to entirely release their platforms. So far, it seems that their answers have been merely vague and indecisive.
It is up to the voters to keep the government on their toes about important issues. With enough pressure, political parties will listen.