There are more than 55,000 post-secondary students across Nova Scotia who are eligible to vote in the upcoming provincial election and Students Nova Scotia is ramping up its day, “Get Out the Vote” campaign, to encourage students to make their mark and vote this summer election.

“I think in the past year we’ve seen more and more students getting engaged in the democratic processes,” said Lydia Houck, Students Nova Scotia executive director.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role in the eagerness by the youth voters to get involved this time around because it’s transformed our daily lives and including life on campus for students said Houck.

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Rising tuition costs, the ongoing rental crisis and lack of affordable apartments, along with the youth unemployment rate that rose drastically during the pandemic are all key issues affecting post-secondary students across Nova scotia.

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“I think students were disproportionately impacted by the loss of jobs during covid and we saw youth employment was the hardest hit by the initial pandemic and it’s been the slowest to recover,” said Houck. “Many students weren’t able to find jobs this summer or last summer and that has created a bit of snowball effect and I think a lot of people are struggling.”

In this election, the 18-to-24 age group represents a key voting bloc, and there’s a real push on campuses to get Gen Z voters to the polls next month as Students Nova Scotia is pushing you to pledge to vote to get as many voters engaged in the election as possible.

In 2017, just 24 per cent of eligible voters in the 18-to-24 age group, a total of 19, 191 voters cast a ballot, the lowest of any age group.

“We think we can curb that underrepresentation,” said Benjamin Fairhurst, the Students Nova Scotia chair. “There’s potentially a multitude of reasons for that low participation rate within that voter demographic but I believe it’s really a consequence of the communication and education side.”

Click to play video: 'Here’s where each of the party leaders stand on making rent affordable in Nova Scotia'

Here’s where each of the party leaders stand on making rent affordable in Nova Scotia

Here’s where each of the party leaders stand on making rent affordable in Nova Scotia

Students Nova Scotia’s “Get Out the Vote” campaign is aiming to break down the voting process and clearly outline the criteria around eligibility, registration and voting options and are asking students to make a “pledge to vote.”

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“We know that when young people make a formal commitment to vote, they are more likely to actually show up to the polls”, said Fairhurst. “That’s why a key focus of our GOTV campaign is encouraging students to pledge to vote in advance of Election Day”.

All three major parties recognize the challenges facing students and the Gen Z population and have different approaches to solving the affordability issue.

Liberal leader Iain Rankin says the youth unemployment rate is improving and that’s a positive sign as Nova Scotians return to a sense of normal and public health restrictions are eased.

“Our youth unemployment continues to go down in this province,” said Rankin. “We’ve had a number of initiatives like our Graduate to Opportunities (program) to keep people here. We have an unprecedented amount of people moving to this province, including young people who want to start their families here.”

Rankin said housing issues will be addressed by following the list of protocols set out in the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission’s 2021 report.

“We do have issues around housing supply,” said Rankin. “We are going to continue to work through the recommendations in the housing commission to make sure that we are building up that supply and we are going to continue to work on economic opportunities.”

For the NDP, solving the affordability issue comes down to housing and implementing permanent rent control so Nova Scotians can pay less for rent and keep more money in their pocket.

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“How are we going to get into a position where young families are able to establish themselves here at home, as they wish to when rents are so completely out of control that they can’t ever get into a place to save for a down payment towards a home?” said Burrill. “That’s a key question about retaining our population and is related to the issue of affordable housing and rent control.”

Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston says Nova Scotia offers a great quality of life and keeping graduates here will be done by growing the economy and rebounding from the pandemic.

“We have to think about what are the opportunities that are available in this province,” said Houston. “And that means growing our economy and broadening our tax base and creating more opportunities for people to have good jobs here.”

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Houston says the PC’s better paycheque guarantee program will help direct more money back to employees, by allowing businesses to keep 50 per cent of their taxes and deliver that money back to their employees as wage increases or bonuses.

“It will create economic opportunity and allow a path for people to see a future in this province,” said Houston.

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Prior to the pandemic, Houck says the “out-migration” of students was beginning to level off, as the economy was in good shape and more jobs were being found here.

“The biggest predictor of students being able to stay in the province after they graduate is being able to find a job,” said Houck.

Students Nova Scotia will host several events to try and reach out engage the student population, which will include all-candidate meet and greets, voter information sessions and contests to drive interest in the election, scheduled for August 17th.

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