Election fever is sizzling both on-campus and online among Canadian university students.
Here at Athabasca University the wave of momentum is due to a unique collaboration between our two student union bodies—Athabasca University Students’ Union (AUSU), and Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Association (AUGSA).
The duo teamed up with their national advocacy group—the Canadian Alliance of Students Association (CASA)—for the September 1st launch of the latter’s gung-ho, grassroots Get Out The Vote campaign designed to encourage Canadian students to get involved and active when it comes to casting their ballots in the 2015 federal election.
CASA, whose home base is in Ottawa, represents 22 student union member universities across Canada—including the two at AU.
“CASA launched the non-partisan Get Out The Vote campaign this election season to really encourage student involvement in the federal election and create awareness and excitement around the electoral process,” says AUSU President Shawna Wasylyshyn.
Wasylyshyn’s main goal is to get AU students to the election polls Oct. 19.
“We really want to drive AU students to our Get Out the Vote website,” she says.
“CASA created this campaign with the belief that students can and will be the game changer this election and have their voice heard. Spread the word and be sure to pledge to vote!”
~Matthew Rios, CASA, government and stakeholder relations, Ottawa
AUSU and AUGSA realized it was more efficient to join forces as opposed to running two separate campaigns for the same AU student body.
It also punctuates the campaign’s non-partisan approach.
“Everything we’ve done for the campaign is non-partisan–from the colour schemes to the resources we’ve put out there,” says Wasylyshyn.
“We’ve maintained non-partisanship as well within our union representation. We don’t want to diminish the message we’re trying to promote which is ‘it’s not up to us who you vote for; we don’t care who you vote for. Just get out and vote.'”
CASA’s Matthew Rios concurs: “This election will be decided by a handful of ridings which, in turn, will be decided by a handful of votes–and because of that reality, every vote really does matter.”
This union team-up makes Athabasca University unique among the 21 universities participating in the Get Out The Vote Campaign. We’re the only university in Canada where both a graduate and an undergraduate student association pulled together to champion this campaign with CASA.
AUGSA President Cynthia Gordon says partnering with AUSU “catches all of our students together as opposed to dividing them between grad- and undergrad student categories.”
“There’s no purpose for that in this important campaign,” she says.
Another AU fun fact: we’re the only online university participating in the campaign that has representation coast-to-coast. That fact, corroborated by CASA’s data, has AUSU’s Wasylyshyn very excited.
“We’re the only university in the country with pledges from every province and two of the territories in Canada; we have people pledging to vote from Whitehorse to St. John’s! No other university in Canada can say that, ” she says.
Come election time, that makes AU truly representative of the Canadian population.
“Everyone else is a bricks-and-mortar school and students pledge right from their campus. We’re online and yet a big part of what’s so exciting about this campaign is we have presence in almost every riding in Canada,” Wasylyshyn adds.
By pledging to vote in the Canada-wide Get Out The Vote campaign, Athabasca University President Peter MacKinnon says he’s pleased AU students are exercising their “fundamental right of any Canadian adult citizen.”
I’m delighted to see the efforts being made by both AUGSA and AUSU to get their members –our students– to exercise their democratic responsibility,”
~Peter MacKinnon, President, Athabasca University
“It’s wonderful to see the success they’ve had so far, and I wish them even greater success as we head into the final week of the campaign,” MacKinnon remarks.
So far the joint effort is working wonders.
Wasylyshyn says the AU campaign didn’t kick into high gear until Sept. 28 when both AUSU and AUGSA blasted their members with information via newsletters and a creative social media campaign, complete with a contest where winners that pledge to vote and tweet the hashtag #GOTV along with either the AUGSA or AUSU Twitter handle, have a chance to claim a gift certificate of up to $100 for any retailer of their choice.
It’s no surprise the campaign ramp-up was also when AUSA/AUSA started to see the bulk of the pledges come in.
Says Wasylyshyn: “As of yesterday, we’ve hit the 800-plus mark for pledges coast-to-coast. Since we launched the campaign on September 1, pledges are just consistently rolling in from across Canada.”
She notes the majority of the pledges are from Alberta and Ontario.
Gordon points out that a robust voter turnout representative of all Canadians also wields political clout for student unions when it comes time to lobby on policies affecting AU students.
“It’s really important that everyone gets out and votes—regardless of outcome—because then at least the parliament we get reflects what people actually want. And, really, student needs are the same regardless of who’s in power.”
She explains the best outcome for students is when their lobbying power is bolstered by that collective electorate.
“Whenever there’s an issue we need to lobby on, we can say ‘AU is a national university and we have engaged students across the country—so pay attention to us because what we have to say matters,'” Gordon asserts.
The AUGSA president notes one of the best possible outcomes the new government could secure AU Students with in the near future is a university-wide, high-quality IT infrastructure “with internet access available across the country so that students can participate at optimal capacity in their online university courses.”
The campaign and its contest is running until election day. It’s free for AU students to pledge to vote but you have to be a member of AUSU or AUGSA.
This week both Wasylyshyn and Gordon will remain busy promoting the campaign and sharing message about the impact of students’ votes. They say they look forward to share the results of the AU student pledges next week after the polls close.
“We’re excited to share with students the success of our campaign at Athabasca University, –and to really explore the impact of having such a widespread base of pledges,” Wasylyshyn says.
Or visit the websites of AUGSA or AUSU or CASA (augsa.com; ausu.org; casa-acae.com)
You can also visit the website of Elections Canada for more general information about the electoral process, where to vote etc.