Although voter engagement is not a quality typically found in New Brunswick’s student demographic, the students of Fredericton will find themselves located in one of the more exciting electoral districts during this month’s provincial elections.
The Fredericton South riding is a new electoral boundary, one of the 49 created by the province’s boundary commission in 2013 in efforts to divide each electoral district by an equal number of voters.
“From the standpoint of this election, every riding is new and has changed in some way. So this election essentially starts off with a clean slate of 49 brand new ridings,” said Paul Harpelle of Election NB communications.
The campuses of both STU and UNB are a part of the new Fredericton South riding which has a particularly impressive roster of candidates.
“UNB and STU students happen to be located in a riding which will be among the most interesting races in this election campaign,” said Dr. Thomas Bateman, chair of political science at STU.
“Fredericton South has a former Liberal cabinet minister who’s running as an NDP here, it’s got the leader of the Green party and it’s got the Minister of Energy. That’s a pretty top-line set of candidates to duke it out. It’s a pretty interesting riding to watch.”
The issues that concern students most though, such as tuition and indebtedness, will not hold much sway in the Fredericton South race, according to Bateman.
This is largely due to student political apathy and disengagement in the polls.
“If there was an issue in this election that really touched students quite directly then they might vote as a block. But I don’t see post-secondary education as a very big issue. In fact, the polls have suggested jobs and the economy are it. And that will be an issue for students, but down the pipe,” Bateman said.
Because of this, Bateman said students need to look at the bigger picture and not only focus on the issues that affect them now.
“My appeal would be for students to look at the big picture. Post-secondary education is a small piece of total provincial government spending in any given year and this province has to face decisions that do touch this province’s long-term viability,” Bateman said.
“The real question is that is somebody else is going to pick up the cost of post-secondary education and what other cuts will the provincial government be inclined to make in order to pay for these tuition declines? Right now we’re funding all kinds of stuff just by going into greater debt.”
Issues that are of particular interest in the Fredericton South riding are the current government’s changes to the public pension scheme and the closing of the Morgentaler Clinic, which was located within the riding.
These are prominent issues mainly because of the riding’s demographic and location.
“There are a lot of provincial civil servants who work and live in this constituency. I suspect that a good number of them are mad at the provincial government for changing the terms of the public pension scheme to a shared risk model. For a smaller number of people, the closing of the Morgantaler Clinic might be an issue,” Bateman said.
Candidates for the Fredericton South riding are Craig Leonard for Progressive Conservative, Roy Wiggins for Liberal, Kelly Lamrock for NDP, David Coon for the Green Party and Courtney Mills as an independent candidate.