Well, he's done it. In an era of unprecedented voter apathy, and despite the ongoing Liberal scandals and their decline in the opinion polls, Prime Minister Paul Martin has called an election for Mon., June 28. While Martin is confident his party is ready for an election, the same cannot necessarily be said about voters, or in particular students.
"I can't say I've looked into it that much," said Kathryn Elliot.
Elliot, who is in her first year of the Computer Science Masters program here at the University of Calgary, wasn't alone. Nearly half of the random students interviewed on Wed., June 2 said they weren't quite sure what they thought of it--yet. Most qualified their answer with the assurance that they would do their research before election day.
Elliot laid partial blame for her indecision on the nature of the campaign so far. Criticizing the attack ads which have come to dominate political campaigning in Canada, she stressed the common view among students that real debate and solid policy initiatives are being obscured in favor of finger pointing and name calling.
"I don't like their ads where they're attacking each other," she said. "I'd rather they explain their opinions. It's really not telling me what I need to know."
Other students echoed Elliot's concerns, mentioning the homogeneity of the major parties and a general disillusionment with the system itself.
"I think in democratic politics, and in particular Canadian politics, there isn't much difference in the parties," said third year English major Russ McConnell. "The Liberals and Conservatives are not fundamentally different, preferring to stay to the safe center. I'm really in doubt as to whether I'm going to vote at all."
Voters have a bleak choice: either vote for a major party in order to keep the other major party out of power, or show complete dissatisfaction with the whole thing and "waste" their vote on a small party that will never win, said McConnell.
"How can you not be very cynical?" asked single parent and unclassified first year student Amanda McCue. "I'm so absorbed in raising my son that I have no opinion. It seems politics is just a series of hoops people jump through. Whoever jumps highest, wins."
If apathy and disillusionment are common among students, so are interest and involvement. It seemed a logical place to find these qualities would be the Students' Union.
"I think most importantly, youth voter turnout is just atrocious at 25 per cent," said SU President Bryan West. "Constantly we complain about politicians who don't represent us. If you're Paul Martin, who are you going to listen to, the baby boomers with an 85 per cent turnout who want to see health care and taxes as the main issues, or youth who want to see social justice and education?"
West outlined some SU initiatives in partnership with their federal lobby group the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. The SU will be handing out CASA T-shirts, lawn signs, and other merchandise at the Sat., June 19 Campus Fair to raise awareness of student issues such as post-secondary accessibility, debt load, and rising tuition.
So what issues are important to students? Not surprisingly, education tops the lists of most students interviewed. Foreign policy, health care, the environment and government accountability were also common themes.
"There shouldn't be a feeling they're trying to hide what they are doing," said Darcy Funk, a third year Civil Engineering student. Funk stressed the need for integrity and transparency. "The Liberals haven't been doing that."
The parties that students support are as varied as the issues discussed. The Greens and the New Democratic Party came up often, while others mentioned the Communist Party and the classic, if newly merged, Alberta favorite, the Conservatives.
With recent reports suggesting support is waning in the traditionally Liberal stronghold of Ontario, a Liberal majority is anything but guaranteed. This means the new Conservative Party, the NDP, and the plethora of smaller parties are potentially poised for significant inroads into Parliament. One thing is certain however: it'll be interesting.