’It’s no secret’ campaign aims to tackle youth voter turnout

The CFS launches new campaign to target student issues

The ‘It’s no secret’ campaign is pushing student issues to the forefront


It’s no secret that national student debt levels are at an all-time high.

What might be a secret to some, however, is that at the heart of the matter there is a lack of students showing up to the polls to counter these increases.

The ‘It’s no secret’ campaign by the Canadian Federation of Students is using the upcoming federal election to get students to vote.

“It’s quite important to be able to show to our federal government that our youth do have a vote and do have a voice,” says Michaela Sam, the chairperson at the Canadian Federation of Students’ Nova Scotia branch.

With only 38 per cent of students coming out to the polls in the last federal election, she says, their voices are getting trampled by more politically active demographics.

“It’s about priorities. When we see the federal government [budgets] come out, when we see our provincial budgets come out, we know that budgets are about priorities,” she says. “What we need to see is our federal government prioritizing youth in its upcoming budgets.”

The initiative wants to see students at the polls to put education issues in the spotlight. However, as education is a provincially-run department, getting federal leaders to put pressure on provincial offices is as best an outcome as the campaign can hope to achieve.

Election turnout at the university level

“It’s a truism, right? That if you’re a serious voting block, you get more attention,” says Jonathan Williams, the executive director of Students Nova Scotia.

Students, statistically, aren’t the most dedicated of voting blocks. Every other age demographic in Canada showed up in larger numbers than the 18-24 block.

“The fact that students don’t vote as much, young people don’t vote as much, makes it really challenging. They’re not as valued in that kind of a targeting election,” says Williams.

Sam believes that provincial underfunding is a key concern for the 2015 election.

“Tuition has been increasing incrementally,” says Sam. “Ontario has the highest tuition fees in the country and Nova Scotia isn’t far behind with the third highest tuition fees.”

The cost of attending university in Nova Scotia

Chrissy Matheson, the media relations advisor in Nova Scotia’s labour and advanced education department says in an email, “more than $90 million is invested annually to support students, making it easier for them to access post-secondary assistance and graduate with less debt.”

While reducing the burden of rising tuition nationwide is a key concern in the campaign, Williams attributes most costs of attending school to outside fees — such as the costs of living.

“Tuition is really important, but most of your costs are not tuition,” Williams says. “It’s part of what students are paying to attend school. It’s not even most of what they’re paying. It’s one piece of it.”

The costs that are extraneous to tuition for students can be upwards of $10,000— a hefty price tag for most students.

“It’s especially true or important when you think about students that don’t have a lot of means. That you really are thinking about the student who has $18,000 in costs and not a dollar to help fund them,” he says. “That student really does need a lot of other assistance to be able to make it.”

Matheson points to seven new and expanded initiatives for the 2014-15 year that include eliminating interest for students holding student debt who stay in Nova Scotia (a $1.6M investment), expanding the Student Career Skills Development Program to create another 250 summer jobs in high-unemployment areas (a $1M investment) and investing $1.85M into graduate scholarships for research students.

In 2010, students in Nova Scotia held an average of $30,200 in debt upon graduating from university, according to Students Nova Scotia. The national average of student debt rests at $37,000.

Why the low turnout?

“When it comes to elections like these, there are actually a number of barriers to access for youth voting,” says Sam. “We often hear of youth apathy, but actually students have it harder today maybe than they ever have.”

Barriers to up-front access, she says, include student debt preventing students from being able to actively engage with campaign issues and registering to vote, as students are consumed with work and school.

“This campaign is a call for those running in this campaign to be able to make youth issues federal issues,” says Sam.

Representatives at Elections Canada pointed to statistical information, but chose not to comment on its efforts to promote voting among students.