Students are commonly regarded as having no interest in politics, and quite often, this proves to be true. So what is it that leads to our lack of engagement? Lack of politician visits to university campuses? More attention paid to social media than on “real” news? Lack of concern for political issues? Looking back, I only recently became interested in politics, and there was one simple reason that drew me in – something I cared about became a political hot-topic.
Last summer, as a GO Transit rider I became fascinated with the world of public transit and sustainable transportation. I had always been the one to leave a car behind whenever possible (for my first part-time job at the age of fifteen, I voluntarily rode my bicycle 13km to work and back instead of my parents driving me), but only last summer did I begin to feel empowered with ideas and a passion for reshaping the current transportation system. I began to envision cities without cars; where roads support cyclists, walkers, and busses; and thriving, healthy communities are built as a result. I discovered that others before me had done the same and produced massive visions for what the GTHA (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area) might look like with $50 billion in transit funding, and I discovered that about a third of that money had already been raised and put to work, on projects such as the Union-Pearson Express and the Eglington Crosstown Light-Rail Transit (LRT) projects.
From my perspective, it seemed like all was fine and dandy in transit-land. But no great victory is without resistance, and I soon discovered there was some pretty strong resistance holding back these wonderful visions from becoming a reality. You see, because public transit projects are publicly funded; it is indeed ultimately our governments that decide what will become a reality, and what will forever remain just an idea. Engineers and city planners can work as hard as possible to create a seemingly impervious proposition, yet it is political representatives, and ultimately voters who determine whether these propositions will become a reality.
There are countless frustrating examples of the political system causing progress to grind to a halt. One which is dear to my heart is the Hamilton LRT project. The first phase of this project would have a rail rapid transit system added to the Main-King east-west corridor of Hamilton. This project is projected to spur economic growth along the line, increase ridership and improve the safety of the downtown streets. Even though several studies have been conducted dating back to 2008 which all suggest “full-steam ahead” for the project, Hamilton City Council’s support for the project has been nothing but all-over-the-place. And so the Hamilton LRT project, initially projected for completion by 2015, is at a stand-still – barely a third of the way through the preliminary design phase – because of a lack of political support (more info in this issue here).
Young people represent the future. They tend to be more open-minded and progressive, and adaptive to change. Significant recent trends are showing that more young people are choosing not to own cars, but rather live closer to work and near a public transit connection – a decision that can both improve their own quality of life and also that of society as a whole.
While an individual can so easily feel powerless against the system, it is individuals who shape the system. Young people are innovators, with great ideas and attitudes, but when it comes to voting, on a large scale we tend to remain silent. I’ve decided I will remain silent no longer – political flip-flopping can be a huge deterrent from voting, but for me it is exactly the reason why I wish to become a part of it.
So my message for young people is to go out there and be the change you wish to see in the world. What do you envision for a better Ontario – cheaper tuition? Shorter hospital wait-times? Lower taxes for entrepreneurs? Find something you care about, find out what political party you believe represents you best, and be an active democratic citizen and cast your vote in the June 12 Ontario Provincial Election.