What kind of impact can university students have on provincial politics?
A lot, actually.
That's what the University of Calgary Students' Union has set out to prove with its Get Out the Vote initiative.
With the contest for Progressive Conservative party leadership soon drawing to a close, a provincial election is expected as early as this fall and the SU is determined to "make sure this one counts."
Using a direct voter contact strategy, students will be asked to provide their contact information along with a "pledge" to vote. Closer to the election, the SU will use this infomation to place phone calls to inform students where, when, how and why to vote.
"We want to make sure post-secondary is on the map, so we're taking the tactic that provincial parties use," said SU VP external Matt McMillan. "And during elections we'll be able to get all the political parties to make more favourable promises to students."
Direct voter contact has been used for the past five to 10 years by political parties, particularly in a close race, McMillan said.
One piece of information the intiative will ask of students is their postal code, which will allow the SU to identify how many students in a given riding have pledged to vote.
"If a candidate knows he won by only 100 votes, he's going to make decisions that are favourable to students, knowing if he doesn't, he might not have a job," McMillan said.
This election is an important one to the SU, because "there are new leaders, new parties and a lot on the table," McMillan said, pointing as an example to the Canadian Social Transfer in which the federal government provides money to the provinces for post-secondary education, social assistance and social services.
"If the next provincial government has a strong narrative on post-seconday, it will be lower tuition, better tax credits, more opportunities for graduates," McMillan said. "It will be good for post-secondary students in the future, post-secondary students now, and post-secondary students who have just graduated.
"If this plan is successful it will be big."
Students who submit their contact information, which can be done online or by filling out a paper form, will be eligible to win prizes. There will also be a funding reward for the student group with the greatest number of members who sign up.
The SU has budgeted $22,000 for this project, much of which will go toward the incentives as well as the administrative costs involved such as digitizing the paper forms.
"Every year the SU budgets for the elections campaign, so when an election comes, we have enough money to influence campaigns and political parties," McMillan said.
"It costs about each student $1 to $1.50 for this project," he added. "If we lower tuition in the project, that would mean millions saved in this province. That's how we really equate it."
Tuition is certainly on the minds of many students, as McMillan and his colleagues confirmed while recently informally interviewing individuals waiting in line to get into the Den.
"We asked, 'Do you want to pay more or less tuition?', They said 'less', 'Do you want it to be easier or harder to get a job?' They said 'easier.'" he said. "They sound like basic questions, but if Get Out the Vote works and students buy in, we can really change government policy."
Based on the research he has done, McMillan said he believes this is the first time this tactic has been used by a group other than a political party.
"For years in the past the SU and student groups in Canada have focused on how to use the power they have," he said. "We're looking at how to increase that power and increase that influence."
The initiative has been running since Sept. 12. Those who want to be eligible for prizes must sign up by Oct. 7, but students can submit their information beyond that date. Each student will only be counted once.
"For this to work we need to ensure that students are willing to sacrifice a minute of their time to sign up, and a minute of their time through a month-long election," McMillan added.
For more information or to sign up for the Get Out the Vote initiative, visit www.uofcgotv.ca.